Stephanie N’s Snow Man

Stephanie’s essay does what many student essays do when dealing with a complex topic: they get better as they work through their topic.  The first two paragraphs work through the content of the poem dealing specifically with a few quotes.  These paragraphs are solid, but feel weak when compared to the last two paragraphs where Stephanie assesses, with great accuracy, the message of the piece.  Not only does Stephanie work to discuss the literal meaning of the poem, but she deals with the implications of the larger thematic question as well.   -JY

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.

By Wallace Stevens


This poem, “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens, utilizes the rhetorical device imagery to paint a picture of winter. It starts by saying, “one must have a mind of winter”, (1) meaning that one would have to have absolutely no imagination not to hear the “misery in the sound of wind” (8). In order to hear the misery one must turn their mind to winter. Only snowmen, who have a mind literally made of winter, can truly think this way. In the second stanza it continues to say that one must have “been cold a long time”(4) in order to take the role of the snowman and become accustomed to the winter. This could be telling the audience that anyone who fails to see misery in the wind is somehow not fully human or devoid of imagination.

The poem ends with the line “nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” leaving the reader to think about the opposing view points: “nothing that is not there” and “the nothing that is”. The author choses to describe both sides of the argument against winter, taking neither side, but presenting the debate for others.

This poem expressed both the beauty and the emptiness that winter brings to many: the natural wonder and human misery. Some enjoy the winter for the natural surroundings and sounds that fill the environment. They spend time enjoying the birds chirping as the sun glistens the snow and heats up the cool of the morning. These are the things that make winter beautiful.

On a bigger scale the narrator sees the difference between the will to see things as they are and innate human tendency to create worlds. Using many rhetorical devices like imagery (the snow man) to prove the point. The reader may wonder who the snow man is portraying because he (the snow man) is what man could never become. He then goes to express that one must enter the winter months with an open mind, no interpretations or judgments, to truly get something out of it. The moral of the story here is that humanity needs to step back and look at the whole picture to see the beauty it beholds.

Photo credit: Benson Kua via / CC BY-SA

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