Pat Righelato: On "The Snow Man"

In a poem like ‘The Snow Man’ the exacting eye registers not merging but a precise equivalence; consciousness must cut back, not expand. ‘The Snow Man’ is a rejection of the idea that nature is the vehicle of human splendours and miseries; rather, the creative consciousness must discipline itself to a condition of wintriness in order to apprehend without embellishment: ‘One must have a mind of winter’.

The condition of having ‘been cold a long time’ is not really a deprivation, although it involves depriving oneself of easy ecstasies, but is rather a condition of acutest, clearest perception:

For the listener, who listens in the snow,

And, nothing himself, beholds

Nothmg that is not there and the nothing that is.

The listener does not confuse his own moods with the sound of the wind, and in the recognition that the landscape is not there to inflate his consciousness, he is thus enabled to ‘behold’ (a significant verb in Stevens, denoting privileged insight) ‘Nothing that is not there’, i.e. the scene without embellishment, with nothing extraneous, and ‘the nothing that is, i.e. with an understanding of its essential bareness, its irreducible reality. This is not a grandiose claim for the infinite extent of consciousness, but it is nevertheless a heroic effort of perception, a Modernist reassessment of Transcendentalist vision, a revision of Emerson’s ecstatic merging in the more sustained awareness of the separation of consciousness and nature. Stevens is trying to make ‘a new intelligence prevail’, an intelligence which understands the strategies of consciousness as fictions rather than religious truths.

From Righelato, Pat, "Wallace Stevens." In American Poetry: The Modernist Ideal. Ed. Clive Bloom and Brian Docherty. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Ó 1995 The Editorial Board Lumiere (Cooperative Press) Ltd.


Title Pat Righelato: On "The Snow Man" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Pat Righelato Criticism Target Wallace Stevens
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 04 Dec 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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