More Like a Snowy Air

Before dawn this morning I heard the liquid climate change pounding on the roof, but by the time I got up, we had passed through pelletized climate change and entered a phase of powdered climate change. So, at the moment, it looks like we probably won’t lose our electricity.

There are four or five inches of snow on the ground, and it’s still coming down hard. NOAA says it will continue this way all day, so there will be nothing to do but make hot drinks and watch the whiteout through the windows.

Last week, when the temperature rose into the 60s (c. 18°C) and the remains of the earlier blizzard had almost entirely melted away, I thought we were done with all this nonsense. Oh yes, I know readers in Norway and Finland are probably laughing at us for being paralyzed by such trivial amounts of snow, but you’re at what? 60°N? 62°N? We’re at 38°N, for crying out loud! In other words, further south than Lisbon, Naples, and Athens.

This is supposed to be, as Wallace Stevens put it, “the end of winter when afternoons return.” Instead it looks like this afternoon will be pretty dim and powdery.

Below is the “world of white and snowy scents” on the grounds of Schloss Bodissey, out by the gnarled old Pawlonia tree:

Wallace Stevens’ poem is quite appropriate for a day like today. For those who are interested, it is reproduced in its entirety below the jump.

The Poems of Our Climate
by Wallace Stevens


Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
Pink and white carnations. The light
In the room more like a snowy air,
Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow
At the end of winter when afternoons return.
Pink and white carnations — one desires
So much more than that. The day itself
Is simplified: a bowl of white,
Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round,
With nothing more than the carnations there.


Say even that this complete simplicity
Stripped one of all one’s torments, concealed
The evilly compounded, vital I
And made it fresh in a world of white,
A world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than a world of white and snowy scents.


There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.

7 thoughts on “More Like a Snowy Air

  1. Ah…Wallace Stevens. Again.
    Again and forever this man
    Reels us in with his words.
    This man whose real job was insurance
    Even while his realest life was wrapped in
    Cocoons he wrote endlessly while caring
    For his ailing and crazy wife.

    You see…
    The Baron married me because
    I, too, knew these flawed and stubborns sounds.
    Or was it because I disdained those silly plums
    William Carlos Williams ate without asking–
    And then apologized to his wife??

    Let us have more words, we said,
    More Wallace Stevens Wallace walking
    Past the palms at the end of his mind.
    The edifice of our affiliations can indeed
    Be so very airy-fairy after all.

    But plums? Never apologize for plums.
    For mangoes maybe,
    Or Meyer lemons sans pedigree.
    Apologies ought to be worth the object
    Of their abjectness and plums are never that.

  2. A spot of verse from another poet, Gary Snyder. who had a touch of Wallace Stevens at times:

    “Removing the Plate of the Pump on the Hydraulic System of the Backhoe”

    Through mud, fouled nuts, black grime
    it opens, a gleam of spotless steel
    machined-fit perfect
    swirl of intake and output
    relentless clarity
    at the heart
    of the work.

    • Indeed. Clarity is probably always relentless. Even though that may not be the the first thing we notice in its light, it is for sure what we recall later.

      A spot of Gary Snyder, the real Dharma Bum. His work will still be around when Ginsberg’s is forgotten. Snyder recognized the crucial desire/imperative in the human heart for a sense of place.

    • Poetry is a matter of taste, of course. And Stevens rarely wrote rhyming verse.

      But scansion is another matter. I must point out, for example, that “Sunday Morning” (his greatest poem) is written in a very carefully constructed iambic pentameter.

      So that part of your criticism is factually incorrect.

    • Why, Francis, how good to see you!

      Stevens’ “stuff” is poetry in the same way Shakespeare’s plays are poetry, though in a more modern style.

      As the Baron says of some of us non-rhymers, it’s a discursive form.

      Stevens is more formal than, say, Billy Collins; his diction is of an earlier time, his eye caught by different inner landscapes.

      Good poetry leaves us changed. We see things differently.

      One time the Baron got permission from a land owner down near the river to spend a few days on his property painting a particularly fine tree whose tangled roots had been exposed after recurrent floods. People who walked by that tree often stopped to look momentarily at the way it had folded the roots under to protect itself from the water’s ravages.

      As he was finishing up the painting, two fellows on their way out fishing stopped to look at the Baron’s work. They were silent for a few moments and then one said to the other, “That tree don’t belong just to Buddy anymore”.

      Obviously, Buddy owned the land and the tree but the man’s observation was exactly right. The tree now “belonged” to whomever saw that painting.
      Poetry works the same way: here is Billy Collins’ poem, “Forgetfulness”

      The name of the author is the first to go
      followed obediently by the title, the plot,
      the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
      which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,
      as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
      decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
      to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

      Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
      and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
      and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
      something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
      the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

      Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
      it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
      or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

      It has floated away down a dark mythological river
      whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall
      well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
      who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

      No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
      to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
      No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
      out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

      Now. Don’t you perceive your own forgetfulness differently? Not for nothing are Collins’ readings sold out and his CD of poetry on Amazon continues to do well.

      There are You Tube videos of this and other poems of his. They don’t rhyme or scan either but he was our Poet Laureate for good reason.

      All of that said, the Baron and the future Baron prefer to use the more formal and disciplined rhyme and scansion you like. The fB took to the sonnet form as soon as he read the first one and had fallen in 11 y.o. love with a red-haired girl. The result was a fine sonnet. He fought with his one “poetry” teacher in college regarding poetry’s esthetic and refused to go near another literary course. He went back to military history and continued writing with “proper” form.

      I’m too plagued to stick with it for long…but then they do acrostics too, so there you are.

      • As odd as it may sound, this is actually the first interesting commentary on poetry I have read. I have always associated poetry with the overly dramatic, dreamy, socialists who use their poetry to drown themselves in a continuous quest of postmodernist nihilism or to hector the Western world into accepting its own demise. Its a different matter when those who appreciate Western culture discuss poetry, I’m sure many others of my generation have never gotten interested in poetry because of the same reason. I do appreciate Kipling,for bluntly stating the truth in his poems, but that is as far as I have dipped my toe in the water.

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