Summary of David Berman’s Poem “Snow”
Poetry is a vast subject, as old as history and older, present wherever religion is present, possibly under some definitions the primal and primary form of languages themselves. The present article means only to describe in as general a way as possible certain properties of poetry and of poetic thought regarded as in some sense independent modes of the mind.
Naturally, not every tradition nor every local or individual variation can be or need be included, but the article illustrates by examples of poetry ranging between nursery rhyme and epic. This article considers the difficulty or impossibility of defining poetry; man’s nevertheless familiar acquaintance with it; the differences between poetry and prose; the idea of form in poetry; poetry as a mode of thought; and what little may be said in prose of the spirit of poetry.
ANALYSIS OF DAVID BERMAN’S ‘SNOW ‘
Lines 1-8 in the first lines of ‘Snow,’ the speaker begins by describing their own “love for the indigo snow”. It is “indigo,” or blue, and it at the moment the speaker was looking at it, sitting “untouched”. When it fell, it covered the river like a “blanket”.
This comparison is used again later in the text; it speaks to comfort and solidity, but also to a single state of being. The emotions the speaker experiences and depicts in these lines are complex. As the poem continues on, they become darker. Peace becomes less prominent than depression or loneliness.
The next lines tell the reader something about the speaker’s love. It is “mad,” powerful and capable of perseverance. It can “endure” the climate of their surroundings, a metaphor for life itself, most prominently, the progression of time.
There is an interesting metaphor in the fifth line. Here, the speaker compares their soul to a “bottle of snow”. The snow, trapped in a bottle, is at once separate from the world, and therefore safe, but is still liable to melt. This is explained somewhat in the text lines as the speaker discusses their age and the quick progression of days.
Following these lines, the speaker adds that they have “travelled” their “homeland only to know / it when it was a velvet blue sea”. There is a clear emotional state, one of peace and satisfaction that this speaker associates with their home. They only seek out varied destinations when they know they’re going to see the swathes of snow they so love. That love is multi-faceted and brings along with it darker and sadder memories.
Lines 9-16 the next lines reiterate the calming impact of the season on the speaker. They state, explicitly, that they are “not troubled”. They are part of winter, “kin,” or family to it. This closeness comes from knowing it all their life.
Immediately on the back of this intimate depiction of life, the speaker adds that they will also always remember the sight of “your pale hands embedded in the snow” and their “fingers, / In a garland of snow, humbly bent”. It becomes clear why the speaker is so attached to the winter landscape. They associate this time of year and snowfalls with memories of a past love, the person to whom they are directing the text of the poem.
The blue of snow, as seen in the previous lines, returns. Now, it is used to describe a winter landscape as a “blue desert”. The speaker can look back on the past, see a “glimpse,” or memory of “your scarf” in that landscape. It soon disappears, as if a glimmer of light on the snowy ground.
Summary of David Berman’s Poem “Snow”
Lines 17-24 the speaker’s “mad love for indigo snow / Untouched” is similar to the glimpse that comes and goes of the past. The cool, calm and peaceful mood of the text is interrupted in the nineteenth line when the speaker introduces the “winds” and their “grieving”. There is something darker going on, sadness at the heart of this poem. This could just be a way to describe the barren nature of the land at this time of year, or it might be alluding to something in the speaker’s mind or heart.
Tabidize uses caesura in line twenty-one when the speaker exclaims over the new snow. It brings with it a “bright day” and the good “tidings” of a fresh start, an image comparable to untouched snowfall. “Tired blue dreams” cover the speaker when the day begins. Memories of the past wrap around the speaker.
In the next two lines an ultimatum surfaces, either the wind or the speaker has to go. One will remain, one will disappear. The speaker references a need to continue on, striving towards a goal, likely that of a new life, another fresh start as represented by the snowfall.
Lines 25- 32 Tabidize uses alliteration in the twenty-fifth line with the words “gentle game”. Here, the speaker says “is a road”. It is alone and “you,” the lover, are traversing it. The loneliness of this particular section relates perfectly to the rest of the poem with its undercurrents of separation and solitude. Despite the listener’s path, and the speaker’s loneliness, they continue to describe their love for the snow.
The speaker compares it to the “sorrow” the listener/lover always had in their voice. The sound of their voice called to the speaker, and it calls now, as the snow does. There are a series of other images that follow, depicting the listener’s hair and using natural imagery, like leaves, to paint a clear picture of happier times.
Lines 33-40 in the last lines of ‘Snow’‘; the speaker admits that they are still pining for this person. They wish that they were their’s now, but for some reason (likely the path they’re walking, as described in lines twenty-six and twenty-seven), they can’t be.
The speaker uses a metaphor to compare themselves to “a vagrant,” or a homeless person. They long for their home, or, more clearly, the relationship they had in the past. In the next lines, they admit to their own loneliness and lack of activity. Their only “companion” is a “copse” or clearing of “white pine”. The trees are white because they are, of course, covered in snow. The blankness of this scene and the solitude the speaker feels, go hand in hand.
In the following lines, the speaker reintroduces the theme of progress and personal growth. They know that they must “face” themselves and move forward alone, even though this is very hard to do. The last four lines are an almost perfect reiteration of those that appeared earlier on in the text. The speaker tells the listener that there is a future in store for the speaker.
Tabidize’s speaker says that they are not always going to sit around and pine for someone they lost. They are consumed right now, by “tired blue thoughts” but they know that one way or another, something has to change. They need to fight back against the weight of the blue blanket of snow and pick themselves up. The blanket, which once seemed to be a symbol of comfort and safety, is now more of a confining restraint. It, like depression, is keeping the speaker down.
Themes in Berman’s “Snow”
- INNOCENCE AND COMING OF AGE
Seth learns that the world can be a violent place, even in their quiet neighborhood. People who trespass on strangers’ property can be killed, and even angels are not immune from death. These are all difficult topics to cover with a young boy, but the older brother does his best.
It is unclear exactly how old Seth is, but his questions show that he is still building his own understanding of how the world works. He treats death as a recently discovered idea full of intrigue and mystery.
Even though the older brother is just trying to make up an interesting explanation about where snow angels come from, he is serving as a guide for his younger brother regarding the cruelties of life. His story does not contain any extreme violence, since the angels simply dissolve when shot.
However, it still addresses the idea that an angel or a person can exist one moment and then be gone the next. Seth and his brother, like the angels, will one day cease to be. This is one of the reasons why Seth asks so many questions. Part of him realizes that there is a connection between him and his brother’s angels, and he wants to be reassured.
Now that his innocence about death is beginning to end, he needs to know that, at the very least, death serves a purpose. He wants to be sure that there was a reason behind the angels’ death, because the alternative is too terrible to think about. Through a single story, Seth has come one step closer to adulthood and has left one more piece of his innocence behind.
REALITY VERSUS IMAGINATION
Part of growing up is learning how to create a balance between what is real and imagined. The speaker is an imaginative individual, as evidenced by his answer about the snow angels’ origin. He could have taken the normal, boring route and explained that the snow angels were made by children just like him and his brother.
However, he decided to infuse the situation with more mystery by saying that the snow angels are the outlines of fallen angels shot down for trespassing. He weaves together the realistic scenario of a trespasser being shot by an upset farmer with the fantastical image of an angel platoon. The speaker exercises his imaginative side again when he says that “the ice looked like a photograph of water.”
The description reinforces the connection between reality and fiction. He compares the ice, which is a real substance, with a photograph, which is a step divorced from reality. It is a representation of a physical thing that once existed, not the thing itself. Even though the speaker is engaged in mundane activities—going for a walk and shoveling snow—he still feels a need to give the world another side; one which exists only in his and his brother’s imaginations.
From the younger brother’s reaction to the speaker’s story, it appears that he has just as much creativity, tempered with curiosity. He does not question his brother’s story or contradict it with his real-life experiences. Instead he becomes immediately enthralled with the picture his brother has painted.
He wants to know more. While the older brother understands that he is simply telling his brother a fanciful tale, the younger boy seems to have more trouble distinguishing between reality and fiction. Having told his story the speaker wants to move on with their chores in the real world. His brother, by contrast, remains distracted by the idea of angels. He wants to know more, as though enough details will allow him to integrate his brother’s story into real life.
Children learn how to approach their world through methodically asking questions. The speaker’s brother, Seth, wants to understand more about his surroundings, and he trusts his older brother to provide him with answers. The speaker underestimates his younger brother’s persistence in uncovering the meaning behind the snow angels.
He believes a short answer will be enough but discovers that answering one question only leads to new ones. In contrast to the unashamedly inquisitive younger brother; the older brother feels pressure to know information that Seth does not. He feels he is not allowed to ask questions since he is supposed to be the wiser, older brother.
This is why he strives to find new answers to his brother’s endless inquiries about the angels, even though they are talking about fiction. He knows that the angels are not real, but he still wants to portray himself as an expert in order to maintain his role as the instructor.
SUBJECT MATTER OF DAVID BERMAN’S ‘SNOW ‘
David Berman is addressing the difficult topics of death, growing up, and facing one’s responsibilities. Because the speaker is Seth’s older brother, he feels responsible for guiding his younger brother’s development. This is why he feels out of his depth when Seth continues to ask increasingly complicated questions: he is worried about saying the wrong thing and leaving his brother with the wrong lesson.
When he points out the snow angels and tells his short anecdote about where they came from, he does not think he will be opening the doors to a discussion about death, property, and right and wrong. At the same time, he does not want to admit that his story is a lie or confess he does not know the answers to his brother’s questions. As a result he finds himself caught in a game of improvisation, trying to satisfy his brother’s endless curiosity.
“Snow” is, at its heart, about two boys trying to navigate the world together. The speaker is slightly more experienced at life than his younger brother, Seth. However, his simple explanation about why the angels needed to be shot, combined with his admission that he had no idea where the story was going when he started it, shows that he still does not have a complete understanding of how the world works.
David Berman, through his characters, shows that learning is a process that never ends. There will always be another question to be answered, and the answers will never completely satisfy the common drive to know more. Growing up is represented as a never-ending process, yet this insight is not supposed to discourage readers but rather unite them with the shared knowledge that everyone is struggling to figure out the world together.
The fact that poetry plays a pivotal role in the cultural heritage of human race cannot be undermined. As such many of the norms, culture and value systems of African are embedded in poetry, this poem is odd. An older brother tells his younger brother a small fib and, like a younger brother always does, Seth asks who? and why? I imagine two brothers who are shoveling snow somewhere up north. The older brother creates a simple explanation for the field of snow angles for whatever reason
David Berman. ‘snow’. A Selection of African Poetry. Nigeria: Longman Group Ltd.,
E. Senanu, T. Vincent A Selection of African Poetry Longman Group Ltd., 1978.