“One must have a mind of winter…” begins Wallace Stevens’ famous poem, “The Snow Man.” That line from Stevens is also the title of an anthology that I reread every winter as I prepare for this quiet, yet powerful, season that begins the new year. For me it is a time of quiet reflection, a solitary time of contemplation. I also find energy in this season, a quiet energy that is for me more powerful than the frantic overgrown summer or the bursting forth of spring or the messy brilliance of fall. Winter is solid.
And when the snow falls it transforms the landscape. Even the winter that I was alone in a house on a ridge for five days and nights without electricity, I found a powerful connection to the place where I lived, the snowdrifts, the magnolia branches bent to the ground with snow. I spent a lot of time journaling, a lot of time in meditation, wrapped in quilts and blankets with two cats snuggled close sharing the warmth of the gas fireplace. There was magic in the inconvenience. I listened, and I waited.
This year I’m revising a memoir, and have taped two words to the side of a bookcase shelf in my office: “Go Deeper.” It’s a reminder that whenever I think I’ve finished a particular chapter or scene, there is still more that I can discover if only I allow myself. If only I can be still, and listen, and wait. This is not a time to force anything, to try to make something happen. It is a time to receive.
“The poem is always smarter than you are,” is one of my mantras that students often find confusing. It goes along with the question I like to ask when I think I’ve finished a poem. I give it the “so what?” test. After the last line, ask, “so what?” then keep writing, if you can.
The beginning of a new year also brings a sense of optimism. Yes, even in the middle of a pandemic, in a time of uncertainty and apprehension – anything could happen! There’s a sense of excitement and wonder. The year is like a newly plowed field, ready to receive and nurture whatever comes. Outside my window, the rhododendrons are filled with developing new buds; the small hollies along the stone wall are sprinkled with bright red berries, and the beautyberry continues to brighten the corner where it was planted in the fall. On the other side of the house, a plump male cardinal feasts at the feeder and the Japanese Maples, those show-offs of summer and fall, hold out their bare limbs, waiting.
This winter I’m renewing my commitment to daily meditation and yoga practices, two things that keep me centered and help me go deeper into contemplation. I’ve neglected both during this pandemic. Ironic, since somehow even during the busiest days, pre-pandemic, I always made time for meditation and yoga. The two practices, along with running, help me reconnect with that deepest part of myself. And that’s the self that I want to bring into community.
The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens
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.
From the anthology A Mind of Winter, Poems for a Snowy Season,
Selected by Robert Atwan
Introduction by Donald Hal, Beacon Press, 2002