In class today we participated in a group exercise during which we were to consider lines from Margaret Avison’s poem Snow. I was paired with one other person and we were assigned a segment of lines to examine and interpret. This fourteen line sonnet is one of the most mind boggling and complex poems I’ve ever encountered. Yet, it’s so beautiful; filled with imagery and symbolism. I’m amazed at how Avison managed to fit so much of this into the somewhat limiting form of a sonnet. Just the title of this poem alone gets me thinking about so much, such as: season change, and the many possibilities of meaning within the concept of snow.
I was pleased to learn that we wouldn’t have to work in processing this entire poem individually. Rather, I think the group activity layout allowed for an even greater understanding of the sonnet. By breaking it down into more condensed sections, it was easier to find the messages within each part. In the end, this facilitated a greater understanding of the poem as a whole.
My group was assigned lines twelve, thirteen, and fourteen. Noticing immediately that these were the last three lines of the poem, I aimed to approach my interpretation with a sense of closure and resolution. I chose to look at my lines in this way due to the inherent nature of sonnets with their question and answer format, hoping this poem would follow the pattern. Here is the section of the poem that I examined:
Asters of tumbled quietness reveal
Their petals. Suffering this starry blur
The rest may ring your change, sad listener.
I began my interpretation by looking into the definitions of a few words in the poem that I was unsure of. Firstly, I discovered that the word “Aster” is referring to, “A plant of the daisy family that has bright rayed flowers; typically purple or pink” (OED). Keeping this in mind I quickly thought of the ideas of blooming, opening up, and growth. Flower petals, like snowflakes, are all individually unique but come together to create something beautiful. I also found another definition for “Aster” which was, “A star-shaped structure formed during division of the nucleus of an animal cell” (OED). Although, at first glance this definition may seem non applicable, for me it brought about thoughts of creation. I considered all of the minute parts that make up a whole. We are so complex and there will forever be endless discoveries being made about our existence.
The entire first line reads, “Asters of tumbled quietness reveal”. Considering the definitions of Aster makes it a bit easier to interpret the remainder of the first line. I think that this line is essentially trying to say that peoples coming together or falling apart reveals a lot about who they truly are. It shows their real colors in a world that is too often viewed in black and white. The concept of quietness is also very powerful. Silence can hold so much pain and mystery that often goes unresolved. However, I also considered how silence can be viewed as insignificant. Actions are more prone to creating change than the words we speak.
The second line reads, “Their petals. Suffering this starry blur”. Again the beginning of this line made me reflect on the idea of petals being merely portions of an entire flower. Yet, without the petals, the flower couldn’t exist. The rest of the line refers to, “Suffering this starry blur”. I think this portion of the line is somewhat contradictory because we tend to view struggle and suffering as dark, while the stars in the sky shine brightly. What I gathered from this is that there is a looming sense of confusion. Bright stars are blinding just like the snow when it's coming toward the windshield of your car at night. It's hypnotizing. Both are bright things, but in dark places. This seems almost suggestive of change moving into the third line. What especially resonated with me about the second line was the seemingly underlying message that we should recognize our progress every step of the way and not only at the finish line. It seems to me like the suffering of the starry blur is a large part of a journey of discovery.
The third line of the poem reads, “The rest may ring your change, sad listener.” The first thing I grappled with about this line was the idea of rest. In this case I think it is referring to literal rest. Meaning taking time to step back and reflect. The word that follows directly after this is “May”. To me this word suggests that there is always a possibility of failure. However, in this context I feel like the poem is discouraging us from focusing and worrying about what ‘MIGHT BE’. Rather, encouraging that we should relax and move confidently with ease and without self doubt. One must also consider “May” as being a spring month, again suggestive of renewal and rebirth. The next portion of the third line is, “ring your change”. The first thing that came to mind when I read this line was a wedding ring. Along with this came the concept that you should first love yourself and be your own best friend before you love others. Then I decided to look up the definition of ring to expand my thinking and I also discovered that it can mean “An enclosed space” (OED). This definition has strong imagery and symbolism associated with it. Think about a wrestling ring. Are you fighting against an opponent? Or is the opponent yourself? To me the “change” would signify breaking free from the “ring”. Not allowing this enclosed space to limit you, or for you to limit yourself.
The very last part of the poem reads, “sad listener.” This made me think back to the idea of silence at the beginning of the poem and how it literally isn't anything to listen to. However, just because you can’t physically sense something from another person doesn’t mean it’s not there. All this internal struggle is just as real, important, and as valid as physical struggle.