The Snow Man
Sometimes classified as one of Stevens' "poems of epistemology", it can be read as an expression of the naturalistic skepticism that he absorbed from his friend and mentor George Santayana. It is doubtful that anything can be known about a substantial self (Santayana was an epiphenomenalist) or indeed about substances in the world apart from the perspectives that human imagination brings to "the nothing that is" when it perceives "junipers shagged with ice", etc. There is something wintry about this insight, which Stevens captures in The Necessary Angel by writing, "The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us."
The poem is an expression of Stevens' perspectivism, leading from a relatively objective description of a winter scene to a relatively subjective emotional response (thinking of misery in the sound of the wind), to the final idea that the listener and the world itself are "nothing" apart from these perspectives. Stevens has the world look at winter from a different point of view. When thinking of winter, one might think of a harsh storm. One might also think snow and ice to be a nuisance. Stevens wants people to see the opposite view. He wants the world to look at winter in a sense of optimism and beauty. He creates a difference between imagination and reality. See "Gubbinal" and "Nuances of a Theme by Williams" for comparisons.
B.J. Leggett construes Stevens's perspectivism as commitment to the principle that "instead of facts we have perspectives, none privileged over the others as truer or more nearly in accord with things as they are, although not for that reason all equal." This principle that "underlies Nietzschean thought" is central to Leggett's reading. It may be observed that Stevens's remark in the passage quoted above from The Necessary Angel falls short of conforming to that principle, implying a condition of `the world about us' that is distinct from the perspectives we bring to it.
- Stevens, p. 169.
- Leggett, p. 6.
- Stevens. H., p. 432: "The incessant job is to get into focus, not out of focus. Nietzsche is as perfect a means of getting out of focus as a little bit too much to drink." (Letter from Wallace Stevens to Hi Simons, January 12, 1943)
- Serio, John. "Introduction". 2007: Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens.
- Stevens. H. Letters of Wallace Stevens. 1966: University of California Press.
- Leggett, B.J. Early Stevens: The Nietzschean Intertext. 1992: Duke University Press.
- Stevens, Wallace. The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination. 1942: Vintage.
- Peisner, Jeremy. The Snow Man. Harrisburg: 2013. Print.