Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Snow Man

(A Möbius Strip)

This popular and well-known poem has been a puzzle to many.

For the pessimists, it seems to describe the prospect that there is really nothing to see or to be. We just are.

Others reject this nihilism and insist that even nothingness is still a presence and should therefore not be dismissed.

A clue to the poem’s meaning may lie in its fascinating yet difficult construction, bringing to mind the unending circularity of the möbius strip. The poem is just one sentence, divided into sections that go around and around each other, right back to the beginning until the end, and back again.

The poet sticks to the adage: show, not tell. The form tells the story. The reader begins with the past, comes to the present, which includes the past, a past that is nothingness because it may be gone but still forms part of our present, and then begins it all over again. In short, nothing is to be lost; all has meaning.

Or, then again, perhaps it’s just about snow swirling all around us, seemingly without direction.


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.

~ Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), American poet and insurance company executive

No comments: