The Snow Man By Wallace Stevens: Meaning and Themes

The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens is a poet whose poetry is filled with complex metaphors and a philosophy that describes human nature. “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens is an excellent example of such a poems. 

Giving the poem a superficial reading will confuse most of the readers. The poem starts in a simple manner but as we dive deeper, with the use of metaphors and literary devices, the poems start to get convoluted. 

Let’s take a look at the poem first and then at the analysis and meaning of it. 

The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens

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.

Simplification of the Poem

One’s soul must be really cold

To think about the ice and the branches

Of the pine tree covered with snow

One must have been cold on the inside for long

To look at the Juniper flowers destroyed by ice

And the woods in the distance glitter

Under the cold January sun. And yet not think

Of the pain and sorrow in the sound of the wind

In the sound of only a few leaves 

This sound is the sound of the land as well

Which is full of the same cold wind

Blowing in the same barren and empty place

For the listener who listens to the snow

And nothing from the inside

Sees everything that is present in that place with nothing.

Summary and Meaning of the Poem

The simplest way to understand this poem is by looking at what the poet is trying to convey. Stevens says that a person who has coldness inside the heart and mind can truly see the cold outside. 

Stevens then describes the world when winter takes over; how the beauty of nature is covered with a dull, white, and gray blanket of snow. 

The example of the place given is a barren place with no animals or people. Just some trees and a lot of snow. The wind that blows makes the place even worse. 

While the first three stanzas describe the space and show how the winter has taken life away from the trees and flowers, the last two stanzas talk about the sounds and what the place says. 

A person who is cold inside can understand the sounds of the wind, and look at the world objectively. The poet uses the confusing term “seeing nothing.” How can there be nothing and if something can be seen, then there must be something.

This confusion can be cleared once you realize that the poet is talking about how we see our own inner selves in the outside world. 

One must be cold to think and look at all the coldness in the world. If one is warm inside, he or she will find a positive way of looking at the coldness of winter.

Metaphors and Meanings

The poem is brilliantly termed “The Snow Man” as it serves two purposes; first is that we imagine the poet is talking about a snowman, an inanimate thing made with snow. 

Since the snowman is not alive, he just looks at the world objectively without any thoughts of his own. He notices the harshness of winter and the misery of the wind. The snowman is alone. 

But the term serves another purpose; it also connects to people who are *like* a snowman; alone, cold, and lacking inner warmth and thoughts. 

The Cold Nature of the Soul 

The main theme and idea of the poem is the cold nature of the soul. To truly understand and see the coldness around the self and in the world, one must be cold from the inside as well. 

Stevens uses lines like; *One must have a mind of winter* and *And have been cold a long time* to show the state of the mind and soul. 

He says that one must be cold inside and have a mind of winter, which means it must be barren, dry, and lack warmth. Only that person can keep on looking at these lifeless and dull scenes. 

In the third stanza, the poet says that only such a person is capable of seeing such scenes and not thinking of the misery in the sound of the wind, which brings us to the next section of the analysis.

The Misery and Nothingness

The other important component of the poem is the bareness in the winter-scape and how it is painful to watch. The wind blows over the snow and there is a complete lack of life. 

But most people would not see it. Why? Because they cannot stand the sight of such morose things. The flowers were destroyed by the frost, the trees were covered with snow, and the cold sun was shining. 

Normal people with warmth inside them might find some beauty in this sight and not look at this place objectively. But people with no warmth or happiness inside them look at it differently. 

Objective vs Subjective Reality

Another important thing that the poem points out is how we see the world; either subjectively or objectively. In the last lines of the poem, the poet talks about this theme.

While a person who has inner thoughts and ideas will not be able to truly see what this cold and barren place has, a person who has no such warmth inside is able to see the ‘nothing’ that is present there.

The poem talks about how we create our own perceptions and it is heavily influenced by our inner world. A cold person can see the coldness around them. 

Theme and Essence of the Poem

Finally, we come to the theme and essence of the poem. The poet is speaking about a person, and not the winter. While he describes a physical place, he is also describing the inner space of the person. 

Just like the world outside is cold and barren, the world inside is also very similar. The flowers have been destroyed, indicating that the life inside the mind has been lost. 

There is just a sense of emptiness inside the person and only then can he or she lose the sense of subjectiveness and look at this cold place objectively. 

Only a person who does not listen to the inner thoughts and just listens to the miserable sound of the cold wind can see the nothing that is there and the nothing that is not there. 

A deeply philosophical poem with a deeper meaning, ‘The Snow Man’ is about a person who just looks at things that are similar to the world within his/her mind.

Read more by Wallace Stevens: Another Weeping Woman by Wallace Stevens: Analysis