The Snow Man
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
While the voice here is certainly detached, the narrator’s use of the impersonal pronoun “one” casting the poem in a supposed greater objectivity, an objectivity familiar more to the sciences, to philosophy, in keeping with the poem’s epistemological inquiry, the tonal objectivity in stark contrast with its perspective, one indebted to Nietzschean perspectivism, which posits that the “thingness of a thing” is always mediated by vantage points, that what is knowable about an object is always altered by wherever one stands, thereby altering one’s understanding, that there is no absolute truth about objects; the “one” here in the poem standing not only for the writer but for anyone like the writer, the use of “one” here reflecting class as well, making me wonder how different the poem would have been had Stevens chosen to use the bossier “you,” or the far more personal “I”; that detached voice still making me wonder why he had detached himself in this way, that feeling forming a kind of attachment; wonder, also, at his use of the word “boughs,” which in this context, where the snow weighs the boughs down, also suggests its heterograph: “bows”; wonder at Stevens’s sober recognition of needing a mind in kismet with the winter in order not to fall prey to the miseries of cold, of ice, of the sad sounds of the season, those sounds welling up through Stevens’s interations of the word “sound”: “the sound of the wind,” “the sound of a few leaves,” and “the sound of the land”; while still evoking the silence of winter, the emptiness that somehow fills everything up, fills the mind with innumerable sad thoughts, paints it with the blues, reminding me of an ancient proverb about surrendering oneself to the inevitability of seasonal changes that I’d copied out, of which I turned my office upside down to quote here, but finally couldn’t find, making me sad, yet again; and then wonder about me, the me that is me, nothing myself, whether what I was looking for had fallen into some hole, some emptiness, some place devoid of meaning of anything other than whatever meaning I attributed to it.
John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.