The Poetry of an Insurance Man

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.


What’s going on in those last two lines of the last stanza? Nihilism? One must have a mind of winter.
Wallace Stevens (1879–1955) was an American modernist poet. He was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, educated at Harvard and then New York Law School, and he spent most of his life working as an executive for an insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Collected Poems in 1955. [Wikipedia]
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  • TF

    Wikipedia shows this poem titled The
    Snow Man. It helps me to see the text as the POV of a snowman and then to see us, all of humanity, as snowmen. Yep, pretty nihilistic.

    Philip Larkin is about as bleak as I can take. His Dying Day and The Whitsun Weddings are less so and have a dramatic revelation for interest.

    I take both poets as sketchers of strong experiences they once had themselves.
    It’s a piece of work just to voice these. That doesn’t mean that these particular vignettes are something that reward me enough to return to.

    My suggestion: when in Hartford visit the Mark Twain house. Don’t buy insurance or read Stevens.

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