‘Snowflake’ is written by William Baer, a contemporary American poet, and writer, that utilizes the Shakespearean sonnet form. This imagist piece evokes a number of senses including the sense of touch, vision, and sound. Most importantly, this piece presents the theme of timing, which according to Baer, is “everything.” The moment is the essence of everything. Those who can capture it can truly appreciate the beauty of ever-slipping scenes of nature.
‘Snowflake’ by Wiliam Baer depicts a snowflake’s journey from nonentity to meaningfulness.
Each moment has its own significance. Be it the first kiss of lovers or the tiny little flake’s coincidental landing on the lover’s lips. Everything depends on chance. Baer’s poem is all about chances and timings. In this poem, timing or the moment is an important element from the very beginning. Baer depicts how a snowflake is formed, carried away by the turbulent winter wind, and its gentle landing on a girl’s lips. Somehow the flake becomes meaningful in someone’s life. Else it would be lost in the great snow cover stretching beneath the lovers’ feet.
You can read the full poem here.
Timing’s everything. The vapor rises
high in the sky, tossing to and fro,
then freezes, suddenly, and crystalizes
into a perfect flake of miraculous snow.
The speaker makes everything very clear at the beginning: “Timing’s everything.” That’s all readers have to know before diving into the text. They need to understand how the right timing makes some moments special. There are several possibilities that one might fail to make the most of the moment. Of all the possibilities, there are only a few when they can.
This poem is all about timing and chances. In the first quatrain, the omniscient speaker vividly describes the rising vapor in the air. Then it gets tossed to and fro in the wind. When it gets higher and higher, condensation starts. It freezes.
The poet remarkably uses caesura in the second and third lines. Each pause marks a shift and a new movement takes place. First, the vapor rises, then it gets tossed, and lastly, gets condensed. It crystallizes into a perfect snowflake. The speaker describes it as part of the “miraculous snow.”
For countless miles, drifting east above
but sensing, seeking out, its destiny.
In the second quatrain, there is another movement. Baer uses kinesthetic imagery in order to depict how the flake is carried away in the wind. It travels for “countless miles” (a hyperbolic expression). Then the wind makes it drift to the east. It whirls in a specific fashion: “in a swirling free-/ for-all”.
The speaker describes how the snowflake appears to be aimless. He personifies it and depicts it as an aimless wanderer. Further using a simile, he presents a comparison between the flake and love. When in love, two individuals do not need to know where they are heading or what is going to happen in the future. They just float along.
In the last line of this quatrain, the speaker makes the flake more lifelike. It seems to him as if the flake can sense. It is somehow seeking out its destiny.
Falling to where the two young skaters stand,
leaning forward to kiss her lovely mouth.
In the third quatrain, the narrator presents another scene. The snowflake has managed to find its destiny. It has come to the place where two young skaters are standing holding their hands. To depict the incredible movement of the flake, Baer uses the verbs “flips,” “dips,” and “whips”. It seems to be a bird performing various tricks in the sky and suddenly perching to its destination.
As the flake comes down, its pace becomes gentler. It softly lands on the lips of one of the young skaters. The speaker describes the scene as a “miracle.” This image makes it clear why the speaker has said, “Timing’s everything” at the very beginning. It’s all about timing. Else who would have known that the flake traveling for so long, would land exactly on the lover’s lips at the moment of kissing?
In the concluding couplet, the speaker describes how the other skater blocks the wind heading from the south by leaning forward to kiss his partner. In this way, the snowflake, according to Baer, finds its “destiny.”
Structure and Form
‘Snowflake’ is written in the Shakespearean sonnet form. It means the fourteen lines of this sonnet are divided into four sections: three quatrains and a concluding couplet. Like any other Shakespeare sonnets, it contains the rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The first and third; second and fourth lines end with identical rhymes. The overall poem is in iambic pentameter with a few variations. It is written from the perspective of a third-person speaker.
In ‘Snowflake,’ Baer uses the following literary devices:
- Enjambment: Each quatrain of this piece forms a unit. Baer uses enjambment in order to connect the lines of each quatrain internally. The lines are cut short making readers step down quickly to the next lines and then to the next one in order to grasp the idea: “The vapor rises/ high in the sky, tossing to and fro,/ then freezes, suddenly, and crystalizes/ into a perfect flake of miraculous snow.”
- Imagery: Baer uses visual imagery along with kinesthetic imagery in order to depict the movement of the snowflake quite cinematically. He also uses tactile imagery in these lines, “itself about to ever-so-gently land,/ a miracle, across her unkissed lips”.
- Alliteration: It occurs in “tossing to,” “fro,/ then freezes,” “free-/ for,” “like love,” “sensing, seeking,” etc.
- Personification: The snowflake is personified in the following lines: “but sensing, seeking out, its destiny.”
- Simile: It occurs in “appearing aimless, just like love”. In this phrase, Baer compares the snowflake to love as both are “aimless.”
William Baer’s sonnet ‘Snowflake’ captures the movement of a flake of snow: starting from the gradual upward movement of the vapor to its landing on a girl’s lips just a moment before she kisses her lover. This piece depicts one of the million possibilities when a miracle takes place.
The “snowflake” is personified in this poem. Baer depicts it as a living being. Like any other human being, it can sense and seek out its destiny. Its movement in the wind is described as if it is a bird performing various tricks in the sky.
One of the most important themes of this poem is timing and chances. This piece revolves around a particular occurrence that can only happen once in a lifetime. It is about a snowflake gliding down and landing on a girl’s lips a few seconds before she kisses her partner.
The poem was first published in William Baer’s poetry collection, Borges and Other Sonnets in 2003. It is one of the six books of poetry Baer has written.
Here’s a list of a few poems that tap on the themes present in William Baer’s ‘Snowflake.’
- ‘Snow-flakes’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow — This graceful and melodic poem describes a snowfall as the sky sharing and expressing its grief.
- ‘Snow Vision’ by Rita Reed — This piece uses natural imagery to craft a fleeting scene.
- ‘Snow Blanket’ by Matt Melone — This poem reminds everyone of the importance of charity and living joyfully.
- ‘Swan in Falling Snow’ by Denise Levertov — This poem is about a speaker’s discovery of a swan’s frozen body.
You can also explore these chilling winter poems.