“The snowman”- By Wallace Stevens

 

 
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.
 
I call this a nature poem , a beautiful poem about the winter landscape. Do not project yourself on to the environment and call it by the name of what goes on in your mind, says the poet. When we perceive the snow-covered landscape we look at as it is and not humanize it ascribing qualities of bleakness and despair that may be prevailing in our  preoccupied minds. One must have a mind of winter to perceive its beauty.
 
On the other hand, be the winter you are perceiving, with the junipers shagged with ice and regard the frost and the boughs of the pine trees crusted with snow as though you too were, with the mind of the winter, engaged with them as part of the landscape. As if you too have been cold a long time and crusted with ice .
 
There is nothing bleak about the wind, which blows in the leaves, and has always been blowing irrespective of the state of your mind. The wind is not howling or being plaintive merely and you carry with you your own misery, that  has nothing to do with the sound of the wind.  The listener should  listen in the snow and nothing himself , and behold nothing that is not there and the nothing that is there.That is how the beauty of the place will come home to him.
 
I love the amazing visual imagery in “pine trees crusted with snow” , ‘junipers shagged with ice”, spruces rough in the distant glitter”. You now have a mind of winter and you behold the boughs of the pines which seem so rough and shaggy, being crusted with ice , they have been cold a long time, you see. A kind of time-lapse picture of snow slowly forming a crust around the bare branches and when the mind of winter beholds it , it is already crusted and can only see the branches swathed in ice.  Now when the mind of winter extends its glances across the landscape it will perceive the spruces rough in the distant glitter, when the sun shines brightly on them. For God’s sake let not the mind  perceive all this as an extension of one’s own misery because there is nothing bleak about it. Incidentally , watch out for the roughness image that continues throughout. The crust of ice is rough, the junipers  shagged, and the spruces rough in their sun-glitter. But the roughness here enhances beauty adding to its texture, the visual splendor of the landscape instead of depressing, with the loss of natural shape by the trees and the boughs.
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“Invective against Swans”(1923) -By Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

The soul, O ganders, flies beyond the parks
And far beyond the discords of the wind.

A bronze rain from the sun descending marks
The death of summer, which that time endures

Like one who scrawls a listless testament
Of golden quirks and Paphian caricatures,

Bequeathing your white feathers to the moon
And giving your bland motions to the air.

Behold, already on the long parades
The crows anoint the statues with their dirt.

And the soul, O ganders, being lonely, flies
Beyond your chilly chariots, to the skies.

First of all the poem is certainly not an invective nor is it against swans.The poet has nothing against swans, only against swans written about ,ad nauseam, in Victorian literature invoking classical Hellenic symbols. The soul seems to have some connection to the swans., especially lovers’ souls, which between themselves, are platonically connected. In metaphysical poetry ,souls are invoked frequently to emphasize the permanence of love , their victory over the ephemerality of a purely physical union.

The swans are here just ganders. males of geese, not unduly worried about union of souls but just getting on in the sky, beyond the parks and the turbulence of the wind. Their union is much more mundane and takes place uneventfully in the slush of a marshy lake. No doubt the soul moves ahead of them.

A bronze rain from the sun marks the death of summer. Its golden quirks and Pamphian caricatures promptly bequeath the swan’s white feathers to the moon who will come only much later in the night. The swans’ bland motions will be noticed only when the moonlight comes, not till then.

As of now ,the soul , being lonely and full of ennui, has focused its entire energies on flying in the sky and the ganders will have a hard time catching up with it.

Love the leg-pulling of contemporary poets that the poet seems to be indulging in.

The line on crows anointing statues with their dirt is hilarious!

Behold, already on the long parades
The crows anoint the statues with their dirt.