Mar. 16, 2001

The Snowman

by Wallace Stevens

FRIDAY, 16 March 2001
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The Snow Man," by Wallace Stevens, from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (Alfred A. Knopf).

The Snow Man

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.

On this day in 1850, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, was published in Boston by the publishing house of Ticknor, Reed and Fields. Priced at 75 cents, it sold 6,000 copies in its first printing. Hawthorne earned $450 from it—by far the most he'd made from any book in his 22 years of writing. Although it made him famous and lifted him out of debt, it also made him unpopular in his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts.

In 1827 on this date, the first black newspaper in the United States was founded—Freedom's Journal, produced on Varick Street in what is now Lower Manhattan, in New York City. Its editors were John B. Russwurm and Samuel Cornish.

On this day in 1798, the first inoculation against smallpox was performed by doctor Edward Jenner in Gloucestershire, England. He had noticed that dairy workers infected with the relatively mild disease cowpox seemed to be immune to the far deadlier disease of smallpox. Taking some matter from a cowpox infection, he inoculated a 5-year-old boy named John Baker. Two months later, when the doctor inoculated the boy with smallpox, the youngster failed to develop the disease. As fearsome as smallpox was, there was great resistance to Jenner's discovery: it wasn't until nine years after Jenner's first experiment that any nation made the smallpox vaccination compulsory.

It's the birthday of our fourth President, James Madison, born in Port Conway, Virginia (1751). Madison managed the Constitutional Convention of 1787, arguing for a strong central government. He later served as Jefferson's Secretary of State, and the two worked well together in spite of their differences. In 1808 Madison succeeded Jefferson and continued his policies. He was the smallest man ever to serve as President, standing five-feet-four inches tall, and weighing a hundred pounds.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »