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Explication Of Wallace Stevens' Snowman Essay

1655 words - 7 pages

Wallace Stevens explores the perception of a January winter scene in his poem “The Snow Man.” The poem occurs over the space of five unrhymed stanzas, three lines each, and is contained to a single, deceptively simple sentence. Within this sentence, semicolons split up the viewer’s actions as the speaker expands on the necessities of the scenery. Rather than that which is perceived, it is the act of perception on which the poem focuses, and passive verbs predominantly characterize this central action, imposing conditions on the viewer and the winter scene which is viewed. In this way, the poem is concerned with unification of time and distance, organizing a single instance of perception into multiple actions as the viewer’s mind and body are absorbed by the sight of winter.
In the first stanza, the speaker establishes a strangely reflexive description of one who views the icy scenery of midwinter. Because the first word of the poem is “One,” the notion of singularity is immediately established. In this one-sentence poem, the speaker describes a single moment of time and space, and yet this description occurs over the course of five stanzas. In choosing “One,” as opposed to “you,” “a person,” or another alternative, the speaker implants the concept of unity in the first instant of the poem, which as a whole describes only one temporal instant. The first word thus becomes metonymic, while also a location of the convergence of action and space, in that “one” is contingent. He or she “must have a mind of winter” in order to perceive the symptoms of winter, which are “the frost and the boughs / Of the pine-trees crusted with snow.” In indicating a condition to perception, the action is both abstracted and rendered exclusive. “One” is an unspecific noun, and “must” is an action which is merely a command, and does not exist in concrete scenery. “A mind of winter” solidifies the first line as an abstraction—an attitude rather than a real occurrence.
The rest of the first stanza plays against the abstraction of the first line, encompassing both action and concrete nouns. Perception is reduced to the act of “regarding,” which is a particular sort of perception as distinct from mere sight. In regarding “the frost and the boughs,” the viewer takes a formal action and does not impose external connotations on the simple scenery. The view transitions from the branches to the trees they are a part of, and these trees are “crusted with snow.” The specific ordering of imagery is progressive, as the speaker moves from the boughs to the trees which contain them and then to the snow which is the “crust” and thus contains the whole image in a frigid motionlessness. All of this is contained within the mind of the one who regards, and this mind “must” be made of this same frigidness. It is clear that the “mind of winter” is likewise motionless and contained. This cyclicality of containment shatters the boundary between the viewer and what is viewed, invoking a...

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