Wallace Stevens

(October 2, 1879 – August 2, 1955 / Pennsylvania / United States)

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.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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Read poems about / on: january, snow, winter, wind, sun, time, tree

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  • Barry Middleton (11/19/2013 4:46:00 PM)

    The snow man understands winter and is in unity with it and does not think it miserable because his mind is empty nothing like the empty wind and the empty place that is the world so that as he listens he beholds the absolute essence of nothingness. (Report) Reply

  • May Tan (1/29/2010 3:05:00 AM)

    I like this poem. One state of the zen is everyting is nothing, nothing is everything, and nothing is nothing. In Chinese it says '色 不 异 空 , 空 不 异 色 ; 色 即 是 空 , 空 即 是 色 。 ' They are the same. (Report) Reply

  • Ryan Heap (10/5/2008 7:58:00 PM)

    who had the audacity to give this poem any less than a 10 rating? funny funny (Report) Reply

  • Marina Gipps (2/24/2007 9:43:00 PM)

    Messers Palmer and Witt...This is by far my favorite poem by Wallace Stevens. Contemplative, Quiet...intuition of the state of affairs through meditation. There's a reason why a businessman would escape to think in the coldness of nature. Sometimes I feel that I have been cold a long time to behold it all as well- only to find that there is nothing. And so nothing lives long afterwards no matter what...it's the zen of the human condition. Other times I read the poem and feel that he is dead. Don't ask! (Report) Reply

  • Gary Witt (12/22/2006 4:33:00 PM)

    Mr. Palmer has extremely good taste. This is one of my favorites as well.

    I compare this poem to The Anecdote of the Jar, because it seems to have the same Zen presence, but without the joke at the end. I have just a few points I’d like to raise in discussion. First, the last stanza as posted here should be separated into two, between “bare place” and “For the listener.”

    I notice that the poem is a single sentence. I find this significant because it contributes dramatically to the poem’s overall structure, style, and pace. It brings, I think, a certain elegance to the presentation.

    I also notice that there are two persona present here. First there is the poet-narrator who cautions that “one must have a mind of winter…and been cold a long time…not to think of any misery in the sound of the wind…” There is also “the listener, who…nothing himself, beholds nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” It seems that Stevens is pointing to (at least) three stages of spiritual development: at the top is “the listener, ” in the middle is one with “a mind of winter, ” and (lower in the hierarchy) the poet-narrator, who seems to aspire to have a mind of winter.

    Perhaps the poem reflects Stevens’ efforts to understand and relate the Zen concept of emptiness, or at least three of the four Noble Truths: a) life is suffering; b) suffering results from attachment to transient things and ideas; and c) a cessation of suffering is attainable. (Report) Reply

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