Bringing Joy to “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.


The snowman in this well-known Wallace Stevens poem from 1921 presents as a rather bleak figure. As we read in the 15 meticulously crafted lines above, he’s been “cold a long time,” immobile and inert, devoid of any thought linking the winter landscape in front of him to feelings of “misery,” barrenness and other associations that humans want to project onto winter.

Stevens, who worked most of his adult life as an insurance executive by day and wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry in his leisure hours, uses the snowman image to urge his readers “not to think/of any misery in the sound of the wind/in the sound of a few leaves.”

The landscape exists unto itself, having been nothing before it came into being, eventually returning to nothingness, and in the meantime, we should realize that we are the same, and it is only our projections, our romanticization, our imagination, that makes winter feel either barren and forbidding or impossibly beautiful and sublime.

Stevens experienced a kind of reaction formation to his early hero, the Romantic poet John Keats, in rejecting ardent immersion in and identification with nature. Not for him the floating off into netherworlds of dreamlovey bliss. That’s not the insurance man’s way, after all.

Eventually, though, night falls and we all go home to our well-lit, fire-warmed homes, while the snowman stays put, frozen with the night.


Stevens instead espoused the “perspectivism” of his philosophical hero Nietzsche, holding that everything we like to think of as objective ”reality” is immediately altered with the thinking and consciousness that we bring to bear on it. It’s all a matter of perspective, feelings, points of view that we adopt from our experiencing, subjective selves, which quickly comes to bear little or no relation to the objective thing unto itself.

So there the snowman sits, created from our imaginations to be a happy figure as we festoon him with sticks and branches for ears and arms, pine cones for buttons and a carrot for his nose, all gussied up and imbued with our dreamy projections of winter bliss.

Eventually, though, night falls and we all go home to our well-lit, fire-warmed homes, while the snowman stays put, frozen with the night.

Is he still happy? Does he miss us? Should we be sad for him, left out there to fend for himself in the bitter cold while we cozy up indoors with hot chocolate and more potent adult beverages of our choice?

The questions are ridiculous, of course.

“Snap out of it!” Stevens softly suggests. “Behold” the “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”

Bleak? Only from a certain “perspective!”

Because, in the contradictory way of such things, Stevens’s poetry, its rich imagery and music, is itself a refutation of the very notion of nothingness. Poetry, music, art (he loved Klee and Cezanne) are emphatic “somethings,” reflecting the fires of imagination by which we create our reality and make a world.

In Stevens’s view, the world presents itself to us and we impose upon it our “blessed rage for order,” a line from his later (1934) poem “The Idea of Order at Key West.”

An excerpt:

                                      It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self


So now, this long true-winter-starved California boy having just come through an epic snowstorm in the usually genteel south of Durham, North Carolina, I’m going to bring my own blessed order to Stevens’s snowman by focusing on the raw and wondrous initial beauty of snow, its 10 or so inches of soft white powder falling from dawn to dusk earlier this week having created a wonderland for my boots to crunch down on, my eyes to cast themselves upon, my heart to soar from.

The slush and mud and black ice need not concern us now. Let’s go instead (for the few blessed moments granted to us in what we can only hope will be a continued succession of them) with the beautiful and sublime, in the form of imagery from the Great Durham Snowfall of 2018.

It’s our world to create, after all. Wallace Stevens told us so.


Captive audience


The curtain is falling


Cake delivery


Fairy dusted


In search of their sled


Car cover


Night comes to the frozen village


Swings, hibernating


Black and white


Thawing before the second act


Low-hanging fruit


And finally, a purity of joy: my dog Shenzi, experiencing being let off leash on her first snow at the advanced age of some 77 people years, putting plentiful boogie into a freewheeling 20 seconds of woogie…Enjoy!

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Twitter: @AndrewHidas

Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.

Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. See more at:

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact:

Snowman photo at top of page by Roberto De la Parra

All other winter photos by Andrew Hidas, see more at: 

7 comments to Bringing Joy to “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens

  • Angela  says:

    A few more favorite lines of poetry, lifted independently from their verse, to round out your lovely images from this frigid, quiet and magical January:

    “Between the woods and frozen lake
    …the darkest evening of the year”

    “….the only other sound’s the sweep
    of easy wind and downy flake”

    How wonderful it is when the world offers an opportunity to observe, to slow down, to absorb; to witness the transformation of: frozen water! Let me amend. When the world, unceasingly, offers this opportunity, and we accept.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      I always thought it was uncanny that the author of those lines had a name so ideally suited to the subject matter! :-)

      Thanks for adding his voice here!

  • David Jolly  says:

    Hey Andrew, welcome to our world!

    Your friends in Penobscot

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Ha! Only difference being this snow-ice business seems to last for months at a time up in your latitude, David! Couple of 60-degree days here and just about all of it has melted, with the snowman’s carrot nose now on the ground…

      • Angela  says:

        Thank God.

  • Kevin Feldman  says:

    Lovely verse – great pics -the Shenzi video is a delight – the unhinged exuberance of running in snow just because you can… brought back images of being in the Sierras w/my son & some of his crew with our mutt Eddie (then a little over a year) and watching him run a top speed around a snow bank losing his purchase and slipping into the ice cold mtn lake at 10,000 ft!
    Some kind of fun metaphor in there!

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Multiple metaphors, I’d say. And a simile: “It was just like falling into an ice-cold mountain lake!” No wait, that’s no simile—it actually happened…Poor Eddie!

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