Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Snow Man

I've waited for a day like this, four thousand feet above the snow line, to feel the cold that I came to the mountains for. Fog wrapped my house from high on the slope to the valley beneath, swirled by a noisy wind. Then the flakes began to fall as though the fog had grown too cold to hover any longer. Color drained from the world leaving only shape to distinguish between pine needle and branch or sky and snowbank. Almost as a rite, I turned to Wallace Stevens' haunting poem The Snowman:

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 has inspired long, (but not heated), debate about its meaning. Does it bemoan, (a most wintry word), the misery of winter, or does it say that there can be no suffering in emptiness? Or both? Or more?

My answer is this painting by Alexey Savrasov. The spare beauty of its winter scene, using hardly any color and no presence of life at all, is like the eloquence of tragedy, comforting us somehow with its dignity and timelessness.

Winter by Alexey Kondratyevich Savrasov, 1870. Click on the picture for a closer look.


DUTA said...

Each season has its specific beauty, winter too (in those places where winter is very cold, with snow and ice).

Beauty and Quality of life do not always coincide.

The picture is beautiful, and yet it displays some sort of emptiness, probably felt by the painter in his own soul.

The poem also hints to emptiness. The word 'nothing' is mentioned three times in the last stanza; the expression "bare place" - mentioned in the stanza before the last one.

Both the painter and the poet must have suffered misery in their life, perhaps even tragedy (to my mind, tragedy is not comforting from any angle one looks at it).

And.. from the objective to the subjective.
I suppose I could adapt to any season and climate (hot or cold)if I had to, but I'm well aware of the fact that only moderate climate could offer me quality of life. A cold, windy winter is a misery agent, as it wouldn't allow me to enjoy the outdoors daily for as long as I wish.
So, Vancouver and Toronto - classified at the top of quality cities in the world - I'm not coming to you.

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TallTchr said...

Duta, is one of the great ironies of art and literature that tragedy is considered sublime while comedy is thought of as base. You might think that's a highbrow bias, but the inherent message in tragedy is that man can be noble and that suffering, we hope, has a purpose.

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