Career and Life
* Stevens was born in Reading, Pennsylvania on October 2, 1879, and died at the age of seventy-six in Hartford, Connecticut on August 2, 1955.He attended Harvard as a special student from 1897 to 1900 but did not graduate; he graduated from New York law school in 1903 and was admitted to the New York bar in 1904. * The same year he met Elsie Kachel, a young woman from Reading, whom he married in 1909. They had one daughter, Holly Bight, born in 1924. * More than any other modern poet, Stevens was concerned with the transformative power of the imagination. * Stevens moved to Connecticut in 1916, having found employment at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co., of which he became vice president in 1934. * He had began to establish an identity for himself outside the world of law and business, however, and his first book of poems, Harmonium, published in 1923. * For the next several years, Stevens focused on his business life. * He began to publish new poems in 1930, however, and in the following year, Knopf published an second edition of Harmonium, which included fourteen new poems and left out three of the decidedly weaker ones. * Composing poems on his way to and from the office and in the evenings, Stevens continued to spend his days behind a desk at the office, and led a quiet, uneventful life. * Though now considered one of the major American poets of the century, he did not receive widespread recognition until the publication of his Collected Poems, just a year before his death. His major works include Ideas of Order (1935), The Man With the Blue Guitar (1937), Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction (1942), and a collection of essays on poetry, The Necessary Angel (1951).
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.
This poem is one long sentence in five tercets, put together as verse. This run-on sentence gives the poem a feeling of being surreal, as if from the confusion of one's mind. Since one cannot truly know what the world would look like through the eyes of a nonliving being, imagination is a contributing factor to Stevens' rationale. There is also no particular meter; each foot varies: the poem becomes a combination of iambs ("the frost," "and not," "the sound," "that is"), trochees ("winter," "glitter,"), anapests ("to regard," "to behold," "of the land"), dactyls ("junipers"), and spondee("pine-trees). The lack of a uniform meter throughout this poem mirrors the way in which a given situation will vary based on a person's current condition. For example, a child may be excited by the prospect of snow due to their playful disposition. On the other hand, an adult may be worried by the prospect of snow due to the presence of a new teenage driver in the family.
Steven's word choice, or diction, add to the image of the winter landscape he is trying to portray. The words "crusted," "shagged," and "rough," give the vision of a very bare nature, and provide the sharpest, clearest image of nature, as seen through the eyes of the snowman. The reader is then exposed to phrases that allow them to hear with the acutest ear the cold images evoking the sense of barrenness and monotony: "sound of the wind," "sound of a few leaves," "sound of the land," "same wind," "same bare place," "For the listener, who listens in the snow." Even the word "few" before leaves signals that little life exists....