Themes and Meanings

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It is the ordinary, then, that compels the beauty and impact of “Varna Snow.” The midsummer snowstorm that begins the poem is one of those entirely natural events that is nevertheless so unexpected, so singular, and so stunning that it becomes a memory, a distinct moment in time preserved in remarkable detail by the imagination. Flint assures the reader that the imagination is not merely composed of such extraordinary events but is as well a storehouse of far more ordinary moments, like the annual hail of cottonwood seeds, moments that, unexamined, seem quite unremarkable and commonplace. Yet when apprehended by the open eye and recorded by the responsive imagination, such events become incandescent recollections still compelling more than forty years later.

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If the imagination is the mechanism for preserving the past, it also compels the present. In line 19, amid his nostalgic recollections, the poet moves abruptly to his moment in the present when he has been so taken by the trees in Varna and particularly by the sight of the women sweeping the snowy piles along the sidewalk, another commonplace sight that ignites, nevertheless, a most striking response. Here Flint moves from past to present in a breathless six-line movement (lines 17-22) that is, in fact, three complete sentences uninterrupted even by a period. The ability to respond, this inexplicable ignition of observation occasioned by a thoroughly ordinary event in the natural world, is part of that same imagination that stores memories.

After he stuffs the seeds into the tree, he closes the poem with the intimations of the darkling fears that are also part of the imagination’s storehouse: the anxieties over the future, the midlife late-night thoughts over the dwindling of tomorrows. The closing phrase, “where I’m headed in the snow,” is literally about his ongoing errands that day along the Varna streets amid the swirling blizzard of cottonwood seeds but is as well a suggestion of the larger future, the larger uncertainties (chilling, as suggested by the wintry imagery) with which every person at midlife must come to face at moments of honest reflection.

Although there hangs about the poem a clear sense of the fragility of the moment and the speechlessly quick passage of time, Flint resists simple despair. After all, the snow imagery that so abounds here, suggestive of the life-stilling wintry bleakness, is supremely metaphoric. The “snow” is actually a storm of seeds, themselves suggestive of defiant fertility and resilient life. Indeed, the Varna “snow” storm engenders the poem itself and in turn inspires the reader to stay alert and to relish the most apparently ordinary moments. So much of life is stubbornly linear: Each day slips by irrecoverable, childhood can never be relived, death presses relentlessly nearer each day, each individual is a fragile, timed commodity. Yet there throbs here a wider energy: The seasons are wonderfully cyclic, and within the grasping energy of the imagination even the distant past can be summoned at a moment’s response. It is that sense of stunning fluidity that rescues the poem from the despair necessarily latent in any meditation on time.

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