Blizzard by William Carlos Williams

‘Blizzard’ by the American poet William Carlos Williams is filled with vivid imagery of a blinding snowstorm and its aftermath. This poem taps on the themes of time, human history, and personal experiences.

‘Blizzard’ has a few possible interpretations. The first is 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 is that the poem describes human history. Mankind is alone, looking back upon its own history.

Blizzard by William Carlos Williams


Summary

‘Blizzard’ by William Carlos Williams is a picturesque poem that centers on the progression of history and time. Through this piece, the poet also shares his personal experiences.

In this short poem consisting of only 15 lines, readers can find two dominant images. One is the “Snow” and another is the “blizzard”. The first line begins with a single word “Snow”. Its meaning is explored in the following lines. Williams compared it with time and moves on to the theme of history. The speaker of the poem asks for how long this blizzard existed. Thereafter, he presents the image of the sun, and its color is reflected in the snowflakes. In the picture, a few snow-covered trees come into view. Lastly, when the narrator turns to find if he can find any companions. He can not find one as he is all alone on the track.

Structure

The poem is written in free verse. William Carlos Williams’s poems are known for his experimental style, and he was also known for his 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.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1–3

Snow:

years of anger following

hours that float idly down —

The first series of lines set the tone for the entire piece and the 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 seems to go on and on forever. The intensity of the storm is followed by a flurry of snowflakes “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.

Lines 4–7

the blizzard

drifts its weight

deeper and deeper for three days

or sixty years, eh? Then

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 past. Anthropologists and historians have debated for years about 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.

Lines 8–9

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 sense 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 William Carlos Williams, the 20th century must have seemed full of promise.

Lines 10–12

Hairy looking trees stand out

in long alleys

over a wild solitude.

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 “Hairy 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.

Lines 13–15

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 these are the only tracks in the sight. He is, seemingly, all alone.

Looking at the poem as a metaphor for the writer’s 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 and 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

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

Also, as mentioned above, his 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 first world war had given way to a time of economic opportunity.

FAQs

What is ‘Blizzard’ about?

The poem ‘Blizzard’ is about how human history relates to a snowstorm. It is also about the scenic beauty after a blizzard and how it makes the poet thoughtful.

What is the theme of ‘Blizzard’ by William Carlos Williams?

The major themes of the poem are the progression of time, human history, and loneliness. Williams incorporates the theme of time in the first few lines. In the following lines, he hints at the broader aspect of human history, and in the last part, he describes the theme of singleness.

What does “Blizzard” mean?

A “blizzard” refers to a severe snowstorm with high winds and low visibility. This poem describes a blizzard, its aftermath, and how the poet finds solitariness after the snowstorm.

How does the poem’s structure reflect the content of ‘Blizzard’?

The shortness and the quick movement of the lines depict the content that centers on a blizzard. Along with that, the low visibility during a snowstorm is shown by the vague and implicit meaning of the lines.

What type of poem is ‘Blizzard’?

This poem is filled with imagery and it is an example of a modern free-verse lyric. Williams wrote this poem in the third person point of view.


Similar Poetry

Here is a list of a few poems that similarly tap on the themes present in William Carlos Williams’ poem ‘Blizzard’.

You can also read about the best-known winter poems and these thought-provoking poems on time.

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About
Steven studied to achieve degrees in Creative Writing and English Education. As part of his degrees, he has spent large amounts of time analysing and discussing poetry.
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