Snow by Louis MacNeice

Introduction to the poet

Louis MacNeice (1907-1963) was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and attended Oxford University. Under the “Macspanday” umbrella, he has always been associated with Auden, Day-Lewis, and Spender (the contemptuous collective name given to them by Roy Campbell). But he does not deserve the narrow label of a 1930s leftwing social poet. He demonstrates a joyful appreciation for the beauty and diversity of things. His poem “Snow” depicts a spontaneous and enigmatic act of enjoyment.

The Central Idea

The poet’s shocked awareness of the contiguity and coexistence of diverse, bizarre, freakish, and even incompatible things in our world is expressed in the poem. However, the poet’s perception is of our world. But, in the poet’s opinion, our world is no less rich, gay, or intensely enjoyable because of the disparity of things. He is content to accept this plurality.

Summary of “Snow”

The speaker is in a room that becomes suddenly vibrant as snow falls outside a large bay window, against which some pink roses also lean. These two things coexisted peacefully in the same world, but they were diametrically opposed. The world catches up with us faster than we would like.

The speaker asserts that the world is larger and more bizarre than people believe and that people are unaware of how stubbornly diverse it is. The speaker peels and segments a tangerine then spits out the seeds while eating it, giddy with the knowledge that one thing can be all of these things at once (or that many different things can exist at the same time).

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The fire burns brightly and bubbles. The world is both cruel and beautiful, as people perceive it through their senses of taste, sight, hearing, and touch. The window’s glass is not the only barrier between the snow and the massive roses.

Critical Analysis of the Poem

The poet was sitting in a room of a large mansion. In this room, a bouquet of pink roses stood in front of a large bay window. He became aware of a change in the atmosphere of the room and realised what was going on. He noticed it had started to snow heavily.

The static roses and the whirling snow were strikingly juxtaposed on the window glass. He noticed the roses standing motionless ‘against’—in contrast to—the rapidly falling snow. He had the impression that the window was “spawning” snow and roses. The verb “spawn” is a biological term. It carries the hints of uncontrollable breeding, a large number, physical energy, and constant motion.

The use of the past progressive tense implies that the snowfall has been ongoing. The metaphor, when applied to an inorganic process, embodies the speaker’s perception of the scene’s strangeness. Two abstract but precise words describe the speaker’s intellectual interpretation of the rose-snow juxtaposition: “collateral” and “incompatible.” Because the roses and the snow share the same boundary-plane of the glass window, they have “a side in common.” Roses and snow “cannot really exist in the same conditions,” because what allows one to exist would destroy the other. Nonetheless, they were together. This awe-inspiring experience prompted the poet to make a broad observation: “The world is swifter than we imagine.” The lack of a definite article before “world” implies that we must experience it as a state of being, rather than as a unified thing (the world) separate from us.

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The poet expands on his general observation in the second stanza. He is now preoccupied with the surprising diversity of “World” – the contradictions of its infinite plurality. One of his insignificant daily activities, eating a fruit, occurs to him as another illustration of these aspects of experience. Tangerines appear to have a simple shape. However, it contains numerous sections containing the “pips.” As a result, the fruit functions as a microcosm. It represents the totality of things that make up the world because it has a plurality in unity. The poet experiences “the drunkenness of things being various” while peeling, portioning, eating, and spitting the tangerine pips. The poet employs an onomatopoeic device: when we pronounce the letter Hp” in words like “peel,” “portion,” “split,” and “pips,” our lips move as if to expel a small object, thereby initiating the action described.

The final stanza completes the train of thought. The speaker perceives the sound of the fire in the fireplace to be similar to the bubbling of water. He believes the “world” is “more spiteful and gay than one imagines.” The word “spiteful” here does not imply malice, but rather a sense of prankishness. The poet feels as if he is a victim of a cosmic practical joke because of the unexpectedness of the “world.” He perceives the world’s levity and playfulness “on the tongue, on the eyes, on the ears, in the palms of one’s hand.” “On the tongue” conjures up memories of eating tangerines, “in the palms of one’s hands” of holding and peeling them, “on the eyes” of roses and snow, and “on the ears” of the bubbling sound of fire. The lack of punctuation allows us to read the line quickly. The word “world” in the poem refers to the world of sensory and pleasurable experience; it encompasses both extraordinary moments of beauty and ordinary things and actions. For a final statement, the last line returns to the rose-snow incident. The poet suggests that the relationships between objects in our experience (as exemplified by the roses and snow) are more complex and mysterious than we realise.

Notes

Line. 1 bay window: window projecting out from the wall, with glass panes.
Line.2 spawning: producing eggs or offsprings in large numbers., particularly by fish or frog. The implication of uncontrolled growth.
Line. 3 collateral: incapable of existing together in the same position.
Line.3 incompatible: incapable of existing together in the same position. Line. 6 peel (verb): strip the skin from orange etc.
Line.7 tangerine: a mandarin orange; the name implies that it is native to Tangier, a seaport in Morocco, and it is also “incompatible” with the climate in which the speaker finds it.

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