The Snow Man

The Snow Man Study Guide

"The Snow Man" is one of modernist master Wallace Stevens' most acclaimed poems, and it is also one of his earliest. Originally published in the October 1921 issue of Poetry magazine, it then appeared in Stevens' first full-length collection, Harmonium, in 1923. Though Harmonium was slow to gain acclaim, as time has gone on, precise, nuanced poems such as "The Snow Man" have led critics to place Stevens in high esteem in the modernist canon, alongside his more iconoclastic contemporaries T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, and the likes of William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore.

The poem takes the form of one long sentence, which unfolds as a series of clauses over fifteen short lines of free verse, divided into five tercets. "The Snow Man" exemplifies Stevens' ability to pack complex existential questions into a simple scene, as the poem takes places just as much in the mind of the unknown "listener" as it does in the winter landscape that is presented.

At the heart of the poem's philosophy is perspectivism, the idea that reality is completely defined by our subjective human perception. More complex than the familiar title and crisp winter imagery first suggest, the poem rewards the thoughtful reader with a well of reflection on how we experience and give meaning to the world.