Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"One must have a mind of winter. . ." Wallace Stevens

The other day I heard a wonderful snippet of a local public radio piece about Wallace Stevens' The Snow Man and woke up thinking about winter paintings.

I guess it's not that surprising to learn that Bruegel was influenced by Hieronymus Bosch who packed so much into his work. You can make out hunters returning to the village, skaters on the lake, a figure crossing the bridge, birds overhead. And he organized all this along the two diagonals, the hillside line stronger than the diagonal created by the hunters and tree trunks. That green of the sky and water really lends a feeling of cold and misery, doesn't it, despite the way the villagers seem to be carrying on? No pocket warmers or battery-powered socks in 1545. It's said that the artist was sometimes referred to as Bruegel the Peasant because he'd go to the trouble of donning disguises in order to blend in at weddings, etc., the better to gain insight into the lives of the people he wished to depict. (Wondering about the "h" in Brueghel? It seems that he dropped it after 1559, but his two sons, also painters, continued to use the "h".)

This second painting, Snow at Louveciennes
was painted in 1878, the year before Wallace Stevens was born far away in Pennsylvania and more than 300 years after Bruegel let the "h" go.

This Sisley painting draws you in like a vorte
x, with the one-point perspective and central figure. You are drawn to that solitary figure like a magnet. Lonelier than the Bruegel, isn't it? And monochromatic rather than high contrast - creates a very different feeling.

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.

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