Apr 30, 2015


I read a funny one the other day, about ambiguity in poetry. I don't remember where I saw this little piece on the beauty of poetry, that it lies in nearly infinite ambiguity, and I couldn't find it again. But I remember the opening spot-on. The writer quoted the first line of a Wallace Stevens's poem "The Snow Man," which Yvor Winters considered one of the greats of the language. The line goes, "One must have a mind of winter..." The writer thought this a beautiful line because to him it is nearly infinitely ambiguous. It can mean just about anything to anybody. But the line isn't ambiguous or open to endless personal interpretation in the least. Certainly, the line is open to endless application in individual lives, in the mind of each person reflecting on Stevens's idea, as all writing is, but it has one clear and obvious meaning. The poem is about human interaction with the world, and in context the line is meant to point out that a human would have to be something wholly other than a human to feel and know the natural world, which gives us so little direct knowledge of itself to us that it seems like ice and snow. Now, what that "message" or "point" or "communication" might mean in your life is for you to decide. But the meaning of the line and nearly every word in the poem is perfectly clear. It was amusing to see a writer defending that rusted ol' saw that the ambiguity of poetry is what makes it beautiful and great by offering a line that's as clear as glass.