“The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens and My Own Mind of Winter with a note on Proust: Je suis Tante Leonie!


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 one-sentence poem never entirely yields up its wealth. Aside from its spectacular imagery, I puzzle pleasingly over the use of infinitives, prepositions, and the staggering quadruple negative in the final two lines. I turn more and more to Wallace Stevens and Philip Larkin as the bards of my old age: Stevens because he stands aloof from the despair of it and transform it into art and Larkin because he embraces and wallows in it. You need both an exterior and an interior view of having a mind-of-winter.

Right now my “mind-of-winter” is on trial:  I am in a bit of a febrile frenzy reading too much and not doing adequate service by any of it.

For book clubs and challenges I am juggling “The Claverings” by Trollope, “Pendennis” by Thackeray, “Affinity” by Sarah Waters, and “Far from the Madding Crowd” by Hardy.  I also try to spend time every day with Proust.


As I read Proust for the third time I am even more impressed.  The first time I read through Proust I was dashing a bit—trying to pack in the pages.  The second time I read Proust was more like a first time.  Now–I think I am coming at Proust the right way.   The Verdurans and their jolly little gang are amusing.  This time I regard the characters as great characters—not as people who must be looked up to because they were created by Proust.  The insipid fatuity of most “love” or most quests for social position and prestige finally strike me for what they are:  the jostling quest for self-importance as reflected by the “voices” of society or the beautiful people.

But I am now at the Aunt Leonie stage of life–Aunt Leonie with cats to boot!  The only redemption I find in my advanced case of Aunt Leonie-ness is that I have no nephews who are willing to listen to me.  My own Aunt Leonie led me  into crazed dutiful expenditures and was one of the final exhibits in the Case Against Trying to Save People.  I try on Aunt Leonie style fads to see how they work:  how much money would I save if I only wore nightgowns.  I find myself always in an “uncertain state of grief, physical debility, illness, obsession”.

In spite of my love for the other books I am reading, I cling more to Proust because he is the most potentially acidulous–for me, at my moment in life.   Art teaches me how NOT to behave more often than it teaches me how to behave at this late stage of my life.

There’s some brightness here:  I listened to Mozart’s Flute Concerto Number one earlier and it’s lovely (K 313) with all kinds of bright and silvery phrases.



Author: Gubbinal

Bookish, tea-drinking cat-lady who loves great poetry and music and is in the midst of dying

6 thoughts on ““The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens and My Own Mind of Winter with a note on Proust: Je suis Tante Leonie!”

  1. I wasn’t familiar with that poem. Strange how he accumulates those infinitives, as you suggest: regard, behold – then that negative NOT to behold: why not ‘look’ & ‘see’? Thirteen ways of ‘looking’ at a blackbird gives us it straight. ‘Misery’, ‘bare’ & ‘ nothing’ add to the pervading sense of annihilation. January maybe the cruellest month. Loved the Aunt Leonie references. Never finished Proust – must try again as I slouch towards my own senescence. Revisit Aunt L.


    1. Thank you for your comment! I appreciate it. I think one needs to have reached a certain age to really feel sufficiently detached from the passions and obsessions of Proust’s characters to appreciate them in full.

      And thank you for your comments on “The Snowman”.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have struggled to appreciate some of the Wallace Stevens poems you have offered here in the past. But this one is a joy. It speaks to me in a visceral sense; infinitives and negatives seem only to mesh with the harsh beauty and barrenness of winter. I suspect I was born with a mind of winter…

    As for Proust, not a word have I read. Though there’s always hope that I’ll try one day, I must confess to feeling somewhat daunted at the prospect. But if I do make an approach, knowing there is a character such as Aunt Leonie will serve as a useful peg on which to hang a little confidence.

    But Mozart’s flute concerto – wonderful! I’m glad you found some silvery brightness in the January bleakness.


    1. Thank you so much for your comments. You can always try to read Proust simply one volume at a time. Just to try “Swann’s Way,” for example, will determine whether or not you want to continue. Stevens is a funny fellow. Sometimes he’s far too abstract for me but if his poems are filled with vivid images, I like them. They become almost like a painting to my mind.

      Right now it’s a Bach Toccata! (D minor, BMV 913)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, my favourite WS poem and one of my all-time favourite poems.
    I’m also a Proust re-reader but my challenge now is reading it in French. At the moment I’m struggling with the Duchesse de Guermantes and fascinated by the way Proust is at the same time acid about her and seduced by the glamour around her and the rest of the aristocracy. (He really is a terrible snob himself).


  4. Thank you for your comment. I certainly do not have the French to attempt to read anything beyond a greeting card in the language, but I think I’m finally at a great age to appreciate Proust–everyone seems so youthful and full of foibles.


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