The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens
Stanza 5 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
- Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the last stanza, where everything comes together and it all makes perfect sense.
- Er… maybe not. In fact, this stanza's probably got more than a few of you scratching your heads.
- So let's unpack it, shall we?
- The wind and the leaves have been blowing over the bare landscape for the listener, who may or may not have a mind of winter.
- Then, the listener, who is nothing, beholds nothing.
- Minds blown? No? Okay, maybe we need to unpack things even more.
- What Stevens is after here is something along the lines of perspectivism. That's the philosophical idea that everything is viewed from a certain perspective.
- There can be no understanding a pure, true reality outside of our own interpretation of it, which, according to Stevens, is colored by our imagination.
- In other words, try as we might to have a mind of winter, we're stuck with our mind of Shmoop (which is awesome, so we're not complaining). We can't help but project our own orders and ideas on what we see. And in this case, the listener is projecting misery onto the wintery scene around him.
- But in reality, that listener—the snow man—isn't, well, anything in particular. He's nothing. And so is the landscape... and the winter... and everything for that matter.
- See, the snow man knows what's up. He, like Stevens, knows that nothing exists in and of itself outside of our perception of it. That's why he's able to behold "nothing that is not there and the nothing that is."
- Let's sum up. We started things off with a viewer bringing his emotional baggage to the scene—he looked at the winter and saw that it was miserable.
- But then, things shifted to a bare and empty scene. Why? Well, as Stevens himself once wrote, "The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us" (source, 169). So in a sense, all those fancy trees with frost on the boughs were really just a figment of our imagination, something we brought to the empty scene.
- Now that we've taken our perspective away, there's nothing. And the snow man, the listener, understands that. In a way, he does have a mind of winter. Or at least, he has a mind that's able to see winter for what it really is, which is nothing at all.
- Yep, the only thing that makes winter, well, winter is our perception of it. How's that for the power of sight?
- And it only took ol' Wallace one long sentence, spanning five stanzas to get there. Sheesh.