The advent of winter always brings Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man” to mind. Reading it this time around, I have been fascinated by the relationship between the poem’s lines and their surrounding space. Just as Stevens directs our attention toward the silence that accompanies the snowy season, an emptiness that asserts itself in its negativity, so he asks us to listen more closely to the “stuff” before and after each line and stanza.
Stanza, in Italian, means “room.” In “The Snow Man,” Stevens gives us five rooms; each room has its own white space around it, its own silence. Yet the poet does not close the door at the end of each stanza — rather, a single sentence runs through every room, a draft through an old house. There is a unique tension in this poem, one that pits pause against flow. The reader, straining to bridge one clause with the next, is resisted by a “nothing that is.”
Letters have started to pool at the bottom of my backpack. The alphabetical kind. They lie on the surface of jagged, shrapnel-like scraps of paper and were once part of The Sound and the Fury. Perhaps the printing house of my edition disliked the book and chose an especially brittle paper for it, knowing it would disintegrate in my hands as I read it. Hundreds of pages fell out and splintered when they should have folded; it seemed like pre-programmed self-destruction happening out of sympathy for the Compson family. I no longer own a copy of The Sound and the Fury.
But I’ve been carrying around its remains all semester. I sometimes find pieces lodged between leaves in my notebook, or occasionally stuck to my toes while I study. They show up everywhere, clinging to objects I transfer from one bag to another, or leaping into my hair in the process. Every time I put a book, notebook, or object of any other kind into my bag, I further pummel the already tortured fragments that haven’t made a run for it. By the end of the semester, the pool may be indistinguishable from the sand that hitches a ride in my pockets after a weekend retreat.