Blizzard by William Carlos Williams

Blizzard has a few possible interpretations. The first is the literal; Williams is clearly discussing a winter storm. He describes the snow as it falls in the city. The second interpretation is that the blizzard is a metaphor for the poet’s life. He finds himself alone, looking back at things. The final interpretation I will discuss is that the poem describes human history. Mankind is alone, looking back upon its own history.

I will begin by analyzing the poem in depth. Then, I will make reference to the historical context of the poem. Finally, I will discuss the poem’s structure and form.

 

Blizzard Analysis

Snow:
years of anger following
hours that float idly down — …

The poems fist series of lines set the tone for the entire piece. The first word “Snow” is, of course, the central theme of the story. If the first word is a concrete foundation, then the following second and third lines are more abstract and oblique.

The “years of anger” could easily refer to the intensity of the initial storm. Blizzards are all howling wind, cracking tree branches, and in some cases, thunder and lightning that seem to go on and on forever. The intensity of the storm is followed by a flurry of snow flakes “that float idly down.” Anyone who has been in a blizzard knows that the flurries can go on for hours after the main storm has passed.

Considering the poet’s biography, the snow could be a reference to the way Williams felt during his childhood. His parents did their best to instill their moralistic point of view upon him; he was blinded by his mother and father as the snow obscures the sun. Then, as he became a fully independent man, the blizzard, “years of anger,” slowed to a shower of flurries, and he could see clearly

A broader interpretation of these lines could imply that Williams is suggesting that the human race has been lost for years in an angry blizzard. Finally, after centuries of strife the human race is able to see clearly as the flurries of history continue to idly float down.

the blizzard
drifts its weight
deeper and deeper for three days
or sixty years, eh?…

Again the poet begins with a concrete image; the storm and its consequences are described. The reader can easily imagine drifts of snow growing larger and larger, days seeming to stretch into decades.

If the poem is indeed autobiographical, then Williams is implying that, in his early years, he felt more than just blinded. The poet could be suggesting that he felt that he had been buried under walls of cold snow and could not say for how long.

If this piece is used to explore human history in general, then the blizzard’s deep drifts would represent the many tumultuous trials mankind has faced in the its past. Anthropologists and historians have debated for years when the first human appeared on Earth. “Three days or sixty years” could be a reference to this uncertainty in the shared history of the human race.

…Then
the sun! a clutter of
yellow and blue flakes — …

As the piece continues, the sky clears revealing “a clutter of yellow and blue.” On a literal level, this is a straightforward description of the end of a blizzard. The beauty of the sun and sky reflecting on crystalline snowdrifts is something most readers can relate to.

Looking at the poet’s life, “the sun” could easily represent the sense of freedom Williams felt when he, free of his parents’ influence, began to explore his own literary desires.

When talking about humanity in general, these lines could refer to the since of optimism many people had in the early 1920s (this poem was first published in 1920). Looking back, anyone can see that the human race has endured a long and troubled history, full of disease, famine, and conflict. To Williams, the 20th century must have seemed full of promise.

Hairy looking trees stand out
in long alleys
over a wild solitude.

Again, on a literal level, the image of trees heavy with ice and snow fits perfectly with the poem’s description of a blizzard. The poet captures the feeling of being alone in a beautiful, endless world of white after a long snowstorm.

If the poem is a description of the writer’s life, then these lines could be interpreted as a reference to how Williams felt immediately after leaving his parents and their overly moralistic influence behind, he finds himself in a world full of strange and unfamiliar beauty. The “hairly looking trees” are an example of how different his surroundings seemed, and for the first time he was alone in “a wild solitude.”

As a metaphor for human history, these lines could refer to the modern state of man. The “hairy looking trees” are not trees at all but the buildings of modern man, capped with snow. The “wild solitude” is the city where mankind is never alone, and yet strangely alienated.

The man turns and there —
his solitary track stretched out
upon the world.

The final lines of this poem call upon the specific image of a man walking through the snow after a blizzard. When the man looks back, he sees that his are the only tracks in the sight. He is, seemingly, all alone.

Looking, at the poem as a metaphor for William Carlo Williams’ life, these lines could be interpreted as the poet looking back on his life. After leaving his parents and his previous life behind, he looks back realizes that he is alone. He is making his own path in the world.

In regards to the whole of humanity, these lines imply that the human race has come through the storm and can look back on its own history. Mankind is the only truly intelligent species on the planet. Only people can look back and see where they have come from.

 

Historical Context

Williams was a contemporary and friend of many famous American poets. He was also practicing medical doctor, working in hospitals and in his own private practice at various points in his career. He often cited his work as a health care provider as major influence on his poetry.

Also, as mentioned above, Williams’ parents had a large influence on his life. Many have asserted that his unique use of free verse is a reaction to and rebellion against the structure they forced upon his life.

“Blizzard” was first published in 1920. This was an optimistic time in American history. The darkness of the firs world war had given way to time of economic opportunity.

 

Structure

The poem is written in free verse. Williams’ poems are known for an experimental style, and he was also known for a creative use of punctuation. Both of these aspects are on display in “Blizzard.” The use of dashes instead of the more common comma is particularly obvious. The line breaks come at unexpected places and illustrate the poet’s unconventional style.

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