Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.
David Berman and a Summary of 'Snow'
'Snow' is a poem that focuses on the interaction between two brothers out for a walk through a field of snow. It contains vivid imagery within its long lines and confronts the reader with the older brother's dark imagination, despite a seemingly innocent opening scenario.
David Berman, poet, teacher and musician, published this poem in 1999 in the book Actual Air. Snow has become the most popular poem from this collection and is regularly featured in school curriculum, holding a fascination for students.
- What is striking about this poem is the contrast between reality and fiction; the everyday against the universal. The older brother's off-hand, almost sinister explanation for the existence of the snow angels is one that profoundly affects the younger brother.
As the poem progresses, the reader is tempted to think that the older brother's imagined demise for the angels is of little importance, especially as the scene shifts in time to earlier on in the day, and the clearing away of the snow by the older brother.
But the language here becomes pretty disturbing and the reader could be forgiven for thinking that the older brother made up the angel killing because he wanted to stir things up on what was a boring, dismal winter day. Boring snow, boring neighbor, boring life?
The final line adds to the strange tension set up in the poem - could the imagined shooting possibly set off a negative chain reaction in the mind of the sibling? Or is this simply another life lesson the younger brother has to learn, that of the difference between fact and fake news.
Walking through a field with my little brother Seth
I pointed to a place where kids had made angels in the snow.
For some reason, I told him that a troop of angels
had been shot and dissolved when they hit the ground.
He asked who had shot them and I said a farmer.
Then we were on the roof of the lake.
The ice looked like a photograph of water.
Why he asked. Why did he shoot them.
I didn't know where I was going with this.
They were on his property, I said.
When it's snowing, the outdoors seem like a room.
Today I traded hellos with my neighbor.
Our voices hung close in the new acoustics.
A room with the walls blasted to shreds and falling.
We returned to our shoveling, working side by side in silence.
But why were they on his property, he asked.
Analysis of the Poem
'Snow' is a poem that takes a number of snapshots of a dialogue between two brothers on a walk through a field of snow. The older brother is the 'lead' player and it's his mindset the reader is invited into to try and make sense of his response to his little brother after the discovery of snow angels in the snow.
The big brother (any associations here with Orwell's 1984?) knows the angels have been made by local kids but out of the blue creates a fictional reason for their existence. The angels have been shot by a farmer. They melted into the snow as a result.
Whether he does this in an attempt to try and 'entertain' his kid brother or comes out with this flight of fancy merely as an exercise in imaginative thinking, the reader has to work it out one way or the other.
After the initial exchange between the brothers, there is a vacuum which is filled with a vivid image of ice as they walk across a frozen lake. This shift in space is sudden. One minute they're in the snow, the next they're looking down into the water through the ice.
Could this lake be a kind of frozen emotion? There is an altered state of reality here wrapped up in a simile - the ice looks like a photograph, as if the speaker has seen many photographs of water.
The surface tension grows as the younger brother seeks answers as to why a farmer would kill angels, putting the older brother into uncharted territory. His imagination, quick enough to create a shooting scenario, is now at a loss. Which direction should he take this? Or should he just admit that he made the whole story up and relieve the situation?
The speaker reverts to his internal thoughts and compares a snowy environment to a room. It's another simile, connecting the snow to a house, a home? The reader is taken back in time, not too far back, to a common enough scene of neighbors clearing away the snow. An innocuous activity yes, but note the re-entry of slightly disturbing language again - the room has been blasted and is falling.
Why such devastation? The older brother, the speaker, has either been affected by his own imagined shooting of the angels and this has colored his memory of that morning's snow clearance near his house.
Or something has already happened to the brothers, something has upset their domestic life and that is the reason why they are out walking in the snow with their minds on the death of angels.
Something innocent has died in their lives. The little brother's final question sums it all - why do these kinds of things happen to the innocent ones?
The poem overall has a cold feel to it. There is nothing of the beauty of snow, all is slightly surreal and lacking positivity. For two brothers out walking in snow, you'd expect a little fun, play and mischievousness, but no, all the reader has to work with is frozen emotion and questions that have no answer.
Perhaps this was originally a piece of prose made into a shape-poem by a slight adjustment to line, look and length. It is a kind of part-story with gaps ready to be filled with the reader's own imagination.
Literary Devices Used
'Snow' is a poem with an unusual form and on the page has the appearance of a strange paragraph of prose, the gaps of white between lines becoming areas of snow, the lines being the walk, the action of the speaker and his little brother.
Altogether there are 16 lines with no end rhymes so making this a free verse poem with many stanzas, differing in length between a single line and three lines. This separation of line from line by white space gives the structure a detached feel, almost as if the speaker is saying to the reader - have a long pause and think about what's gone before whilst I continue my walk through the snow.
'Snow' could be a prose poem, the long lines looking more like passages from a story than a rhythmical construct. Perhaps they reflect the walk, which was a long one.
Each line varies in length between 9 and 15 syllables and most are end stopped, save for the first and third lines, where enjambment is used, carrying on the sense from one line to the next without punctuation.
This loose arrangement gives the poem an unusual feel. Most lines are complete in themselves, the syntax straightforward enough as internal punctuation is at a minimum.
© 2017 Andrew Spacey