A Mind of Winter
by Tina Blue
April 20, 2001
"The Snow Man," by Wallace Stevens, describes a state of mind that the speaker refers to as "a mind of winter" (1). This state of mind, which seems to be that of total alienation and despair, is embodied in the poem's barren, icy imagery.
The poem consists of one long sentence. The effect is like that of a snowdrift. As the sentence extends itself, line after line after line, we feel overwhelmed, buried by the accumulation of ice and snow.
The winter imagery is not itself sufficient to produce the sense of alienation and despair that characterizes this poem. In fact, except for that ominous wind, all of the same images could easily be used to create a "winter wonderland" effect of beauty and delight. A similar landscape could even be used as a backdrop for images of excited children engaged in winter play. The despair that darkens the winter landscape in this poem is obviously projected onto the scene from within the persona's own "mind of winter" (1), a mind that can see only the emptiness of "the distant glitter / Of the January sun" (6-7) on ice-covered trees, not its crystalline beauty. When the persona says, One must . . . / . . . have been cold a long time" (1, 4), he is describing his own condition. But the coldness that he suffers from, though it is reflected for him in the wintry environment, is not caused by the weather. Indeed, it is not a physical condition at all, but a spiritual and emotional one.
He is so deep into his own depression and alienation that he seems to be without emotional response, not even that of misery: "One must have a mind of winter / . . . not to think / Of any misery in the sound of the wind" (1, 7-8). What he feels inside, and what he projects onto the world, is nothing: "For [he is] the listener, who listens in the snow, / And, nothing himself, beholds / Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is" (13-15). That last line suggests not only that the world he perceives is nothing ("the nothing that is"), but also that he cannot take comfort in anything like religious faith, for he "beholds / Nothing that is not there" (14-15). No invisible meaning or power exists to lend him comfort. His bitterly cold, clear perception assures him that all is nothing, both within himself and outside of himself.
The image of water locked in ice and snow across a barren landscape that represents "the same bare place" (12) within the persona implies the total absence of all warmth, movement, and hope. Nothing moves across this frozen landscape but the ominous winter wind.