The Hollow ~ Chris Mousseau
As January ended in Prince Edward County, Ontario, this is the view that greeted Chris Mousseau: a jumble of snow and branches decorating a local hollow. When I came across it on Chris’s Country Gardening site, it brought to mind Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man,” a poem capable of evoking the strange sense of hollowness that sometimes sets in during the wait for spring.
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.
46 thoughts on “A Few Lines for the Winter-Weary”
What a poem! Powerful, even for someone like me who thinks winter is a beautiful, restful time.
I’ve always thought this was an unusually evocative poem. It rewards reading aloud, and following the punctuation. When I read it that way, it feels like a downward spiral — not of emotion, necessarily, but of leaves, or snowflakes, or an ending season.
“January sun”? What’s that? I am a tad winter weary but only because we haven’t had much sun or even snow to blanket the drab landscape. But today welcomes a new month and…wait…what IS that bright orb in my sky’s view? It’s the sun! February sun. And may it show its face more this month than last.
It’s a fact that winter without snow where snow is expected can seem especially drab. A hunger for color sometimes can be tempered with good light, but when gloominess prevails, it’s unpleasant. I hope your sunlight stays — or at least comes and goes on a more regular basis.
Well, this works! On the last day of January I saw the sun for the first time! I guess I become winter weary about a day and a half after the first snowfall, or when I try to get out of my driveway (because our street is last to be plowed) or after seeing the first of what will be many fender benders. That said, weather is wonky everywhere (especially this year) and living south is no guarantee of sunny skies. Hurricanes, tornadoes, brush fires, floods, ice…. I’ll take my Michigan weather!
Believe me: I’m giving thanks for rain and gloom this morning. Central Texas — and the Dallas area — aren’t so lucky. The ice still is accumulating. The good news is that this is going to be short-lived, and by the weekend we’ll be back to sunshine and relative warmth. In the meantime, plenty of people are remembering what it’s like to drive on ice: often with unhappy results. I still laugh when I remember the first significant wave of Michiganders who arrived in Houston back in the 70s. They’d stand in the downtown skywalks across a couple of our busiest freeways and laugh at people trying to drive in ice or snow. We can do hurricanes, but ice is a different matter!
I really like this poem! It really has the feeling of winter, your “hollowness” is very apt for walking through a stripped-down landscape. I also like “junipers shagged with ice,” but Mike Meyers has now popularized the British slang usage which kind of clouds that line.
I didn’t remember Mike Meyers at all, although once I came across the movie’s title it all came back. I’ll stick with ‘shagbark hickory’ as the reason for Stevens choosing the word; their bark is a great visual metaphor for ice-coated trees.
That’s neat, I love shagbarks but hadn’t thought of that.
You know, I can remember winters that were extremely cold but brought plentiful sunshine. Those weren’t too wearing. But this winter has been the exception (or so I hope). We’ve had day upon day of dreary gray, despite (according to the weather-folks) fairly mild temperatures. I’m partial to the sun, myself. Yes, winter can be beautiful, but I long to feel the sun’s warmth again. Great poem for the photo, Linda.
I suspect it works up there just like it does down here: warmer air tends to be more humid, and that tends to form clouds. After a cold front, our skies are robin-egg blue and clear, but once the warmer air begins to back up from the Gulf, we go cloudy again. It’s a tradeoff of sorts. I do remember how wonderful it was to have those clear, cold winter days when the blue sky and white snow made the world a different kind of beautiful; I hope your sunshine arrives soon, with or without snow!
Beautiful poem – I must admit I’m ready for spring, so I always welcome February when the days start getting a bit longer!
This is the time of year when long stretches of cloudy days can bring a surprise when those clouds break. Every day, the extra minute or two adds up, but we don’t notice it until the light appears again. Just think: we’re only a little more than a month away from daylight saving time.
It’s true I was glad today, on the first day of February, to walk in the garden when it wasn’t quite as cold as a week ago, and the sun had come weakly out… I was so ready for our relatively mild California winter to show signs of departure. And it does… but the sun went behind the clouds, and the wind is blowing in the same bare place.
The poem feeds my wintry mind; I think I won’t be thoroughly happy until June.
I was quite taken with this poem. It applies so well to quite different places, in a season whose characteristics also can vary widely. But winter, after all, is more than snow and cold. Above all else, it’s a season of lying fallow: tiresome at times, but so necessary!
Lovely poem. I never lived in a place that was snowed out most of the winter, I can only imagine that’s exactly how it feels.
When I lived in snow country, I don’t think I could have appreciated this poem. I was younger then; lingering heavy snow meant days off school and being snuggled up at home with fires, books, and hot chocolate. Now, having experienced the need for a ‘mind of summer’ to deal with our interminable heat and humidity at the end of that season, it’s easy to see how the dynamic is the same, even if the conditions are different, and I love the poem.
“And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” That’s January in a nutshell. You are very aware of all the things that are there, such as cold, snow, wind and an absence of color except for the sky; and at the same time very conscious of all the things that are not there — the green and growing things and the warmth of the sun.
Exactly, and nicely expressed. Stir in a dollop of patience wearing thin, and a drop or two of frustration on the edge of despair, and there it is: humanity, reminded that not everything is controllable.
Patience is needed to pass through winter.
Little changes are magnified since there are few of them. Sunrise and sunsets are moving north. Daylight is minutes longer. It gives hope.
There’s a time of year — two times, actually — when the setting sun reflects off the windows of the building across from me and shines into my place. Last week, before the clouds moved in, I noticed that we’d reached that part of the year. I swear the plants on that windowsill seemed happier.
Exactly. Taking life one day at a time is useful: learning to shovel this day’s snow without thinking of all the shoveling to come.
Yes, the nothingness in this poem is very Zen, as are your observations upon it.
Too much eagerness to move through any season can lead to frustration: or, at the very least, missing some of what each season has to offer.
That is a beautiful poem, and the poet is new to me. Our weather patterns have been rather erratic of late, a mix of deep winter and mid spring.
We’ve been alternating between seasons, too. It’s sometimes unpleasant (the cold) and sometimes filled with various sorts of pleasant, especially when the wind becomes a breeze and the sun is shining.
Stevens is an interesting poet. One that I used selections from in the past is “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird It reminds me of a series of haiku-like gems strung together; you might like it.
I did enjoy it. Thank you, Linda.
I’ve never thought of winter as being particularly depressing, Linda. To me it’s just an opportunity for a different type of beauty and a different type of play. Or an excuse to snuggle up next to a fire and read a good book. Wallace Stevens does have a beautiful way with words, however.
Given all that, you’re exactly the sort of person Stevens was thinking of when he wrote about having “a mind of winter.” “The Snow Man” is about moving beyond viewing winter as a time of loss: being able to hear more than misery in the winter wind. Of course, when we’re living without light and heat, as much of Austin and a portion of central Texas is now, philosophizing doesn’t add much comfort! Its a mess in some places, but at least the melting has begun. Up in Llano county, an acquaintance got out the caliphers and measured just over an inch and a half of ice on his trees. Yikes!
Ice storms can be beautiful but they are nasty. I remember being in Oklahoma once when walking outside was an exercise in courage, or possibly an invitation to broken bones. It’s supposed to be down to 13 or 14 here tonight with subzero temperatures farther north. No thanks. The weather has not been kind in this era of global warming and it’s probably going to get worse, Linda.
A beautiful poem. I know a lot of folks don’t like Winter. Fall and Winter are my two favorite seasons, and while we have had a rare snowless winter here in the Philly region, I continue to find beauty in the ducks, geese, bunnies, groundhogs, and squirrels I see going about their daily chores. They are also when a lot of our most cherished Holidays occur, and I find great joy in those as well!
I appreciate winter now because of the relief it brings from our hot and humid summers. On the other hand, the longer it drags on, I become less impressed, since we tend toward dry and brown rather than snowy and pretty. I favor spring and fall, because they tend to be times of change. Winter’s darkness, on the other hand, is something I like. Those nice, long nights make all of our human light-centric holidays perfectly understandable!
Absolutely agree on Winter’s darkness. I’m one who doesn’t mind when we roll back our clocks an hour to standard time and daylight ends earlier. More darkness will soon mean more lights!
That is a wonderful poem!xxx
Every time I read it, I can almost hear the soft shush of snow. I don’t enjoy all of Stevens’s work, and some I simply don’t understand, but poems like this delight me.
I loved this poem! And it reminds me why I moved away from Iowa and its long, cold winters!
Every now and then over the past years, a family member would say, “Why don’t you move back here?” In their case, ‘here’ was the Kansas City area, which can be somewhat milder than mid-Iowa, but still: the memory of those winters, however pleasant in retrospect, is what keeps me from ever considering it. The older I get, the more I prefer warm!
Trust me, if we didn’t have kids and grandkids here, we’d move south in a heartbeat!
I like the interplay of the three nothings at the end.
Regarding the second stanza, on the day you posted this I didn’t have to be “cold a long time / To behold the junipers shagged with ice.” The ice is now gone, along with one of our junipers.
I enjoy the movement of the entire poem, but agree that the last lines are especially well done. It took me a while to realize what a nice contrast he’d created as he moved from the vibrant, easily visualized trees, to the experience of wind, to the ‘nothingness’ evoked by the season.
I’d been thinking of posting a winter related poem for those in northern latitudes who still are experiencing winter. Little did I think it would be so relevant for those of you closer to home.
I miss the winters of childhood, when I didn’t have to worry about any of the difficulties or problems it could bring, and when I never felt any sense of hollowness, just excitement at the snow. I can still appreciate it these days, but not quite to that degree, and the sentiments of this poem resonate now as they wouldn’t have then.
Once we became responsible for dealing with frozen door locks and unshoveled driveways, things did take on a bit of an edge, didn’t they? Still, I remember the Christmas Eve snow of 2004 here on the Gulf Coast. It was sufficient for building snowmen and making snow angels, and it was beautiful. There were a lot of fifty-year-old children running around that night, and I never would have predicted that most of them still had the snow angel and snowball impulse deep inside.
I am certainly ready for spring…but I was ready on October 31st. With our very atypical winter this season, it was hard to be overwhelmed with the usual fatigue that season generally offers. One has to hope that it is an aberration in the weather but the last few have not seen the abundance of snow New England is famous for, at least not here in Western Massachusetts.
I would be very happy to come across a scene similar to that in Chris’ photograph and in Stevens’ poem.
You certainly have been blessed with some glorious ice and snow in past years. I suspect that your experience this winter has been akin to mine when I start seeing glorious fall foliage, and realize I’ll be missing it again. Sometimes travel makes up for our local lack, but this year that wasn’t possible. On the other hand, even without snow I smile when I realize the same poem could be written about the need for a ‘mind of summer.’ There comes a time when regarding the heat and humidity of our seemingly endless summers can be a bit of a challenge.
I think for us both the phrase about the grass always being greener applies but also I think that we are both pretty happy with our location in the world.
I’d miss our experience of spring returning sfter a harsh or even not so harsh winter , the foliage, and even the ice and I am relatively certain you would miss your abundance of flowering fields, meadows, and even the ditches. And also I bet the salt air of your workplace.