Snow is Falling on the Pages: Poets at Work

Anita R. Klujber, University of Cambridge

Snow has been associated with various metaphorical and allegorical meanings in poetry: purity, innocence, decay, death, just to mention a few. One of its less common connotations is the dream-like, death-like, crystal clear realm of the poetic interior and memory, which is externalized through the writing act. The special moments of artistic creativity are often symbolized by snowfall, and the poetic word is often identified with snow. Snow thus has both a complex spatial and temporal aspect, and therefore can be called a "chronotope" (Baxtin's term here is adapted for the treatment of the poetic image. See: Baxtin, M., "Form of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel," in The Dialogic Imagination). This use of snow is widespread in modern poetry, and in most cases, the common qualities of the image result not from direct transmission, but exhibit a parallel, independent poetic logic. From among the many poems in which snow is associated with the creative process, works by the Russian B. Pasternak and E. Evtushenko, the Chuvash G. Ajgi, the Hungarians M. Radnóti, J. Dsida and S. We÷res, and the German P. Celan will be considered for discussion. My intention is to show that tracing a poetic theme across different cultures allows the reader to interpret works in a productive way and establish new, imaginary syntheses within the poetic universe. My aim is not to hunt sources and influences for the explanation of the similarity in the poetic use of snow. Instead, I wish to show that a single poetic image can serve as a connective for constructing a coherent intertextual network of poems on a purely æsthetic, literary basis. In my comparative analysis, I will follow the theoretical guideline elaborated by Northrop Frye in his "Theory of Symbols" (second essay in the Anatomy of Criticism). I will be most concerned with the mythical context, where Frye proposes a comparative, intertextual analysis of works of literature which share a common symbol. In the mythical context, Frye specifies the general term "symbol" as an "archetype," and defines it differently from the common Jungian, psychological notion. For Frye, the archetype is a literary category, "a form of nature with a human meaning," which frequently appears in literature. He understands the reappearance of an archetype in literature as a "recurrent act of symbolic communication, in other words, a ritual." It is the reader's task to establish archetypal networks within literature, by interrelating texts through their common symbol. The critical procedure which Frye offers opens up new perspectives in comparative analysis by emphasizing the reader's active role in bringing together works of literature which might be unconnected by their authors, but show an affinity in the construction of metaphors. When establishing a dialogue between different poems, the reader can enrich his or her intratextual interpretations by filling gaps, uncovering hidden meanings or generating new meanings in poems. The literary adventure of interrelating poems not only helps to shed new light on the individual texts but also allows the reader to construct orderly patterns and discover new syntheses within literature.