The reading below hinges on the distinction between “Snowman” (a being made of snow) and “Snow Man” (a being observing snow). It is a nicety not found in Fowler’s. Search engines readily respond to either strings with image sets of anthropomorphic snow sculptures.
It is the making human of the inanimate that brought the distinction to the fore for me via C.D. Lewis reading Robert Langbaum. Lewis picks up a discussion of pathetic fallacy and identifies a subspecies “noetic fallacy” (see Lewis The Lyric Impulse).
Mr. Langbaum sees the subject [… comments on Langbaum’s reading of poems by Marianne Moore …] It is salutary to be reminded that natural objects do not have human purposiveness or feelings; but I do not see that such reminders constitute a new nature poetry.
On the other hand, Mr. Langbaum adduces Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man”, “which contrasts the inevitably anthropomorphic human apprehension of a landscape with the landscape as it might be apprehended by the mindless ‘mind’ of a snow man”. I have studied this poem very attentively, and come to the conclusion that the poem is attempting the impossible. He has tried to put himself into the mind not even of an animal, but of an artifact — a snow man which has no sentience whatsoever. Mr. Langbaum’s “as it might be apprehended” gives the game away: the poet has sought by this means to convey the absolute purity, the essence, of a winter landscape; but his method is not purely objective. Side-stepping, the pathetic fallacy, he has tumbled into another pitfall — let us call it the noetic fallacy.
Let’s sort out what the poet has sought to accomplish and what the critic sees at work. Langbaum does suggest that impossible attempt that pushed Lewis to new coinage. He writes in “The New Nature Poetry” (collected in The Modern Spirit: Essays on the Continuity of Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Literature)
Take as an example of the new sense of nature Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man,” which contrasts the inevitable anthropomorphic human apprehension of a winter landscape with the landscape as it might be apprehended by the mindless “mind” of a snow man.
Langbaum then cites the beginning of the poem (“One must have a mind of winter [..]”) and provides the last stanzas as both proof and illustration.
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.
Lewis accepts Langbaum’s assertion that the reader is invited to identify with an attempt to apprehend a mindless mind. But there are three “nothings” at play that could very well be the counters of a contemplative mind: nothing from the subjective self observing is placed into the landscape, nothing is observed that is not in the landscape including the nothing that is in the landscape. Queue de poisson.
Abrupt end or beginning? The nothing that is the self. We need not be in the mindless mind or mindless. We can call upon Buddhist tradition to explore emptiness. I quote from Hōsaku Matsuo’s preface to The Logic of Unity: The Discovery of Zero and Emptiness in Prajñāpāramitā Thought [Translated by Kenneth K. Inada] who is quoting from the Heart Sutra: “Consciousness is at once emptiness and emptiness is at once consciousness.” Is this not one having a mind of winter?
And so for day 1311