Macneice’s poems often move rapidly from one impression to another
The poem begins with an event happening unexpectedly, it is as if ‘The room’ (l. 1) changes angles or character all at once ‘suddenly rich’ (l. 1) manifests abruptness this gives the poem a sense of anticipation which is subtlety changed when the word ‘suddener’ (l. 4) is then applied to ‘world’. This rapid change from room to world is disorientating which in itself echoes the use of the word ‘sudden’, the form is reflecting the content. By moving from the concrete to the abstract, the poem has already shown us the scope, and paradoxically the limitations of human knowledge.
This is underlined by the correct use of suddenly and the colloquial, almost childlike use of the word suddener. It is as if the impressions are happening so rapidly that there is no time for complex words to complicate what is already unknowable. The contrast and incongruity of the snow and the rose is a central motif in MacNeice’s poem Snow. The vivid image of pink roses stands out against the white snow; in addition, pink roses have sexual connotations. In the myth of Venus pink roses originated from her blushes when Zeus saw her bathing this stands in opposition to the image of virginal white snow.
Roses symbolise not only love, but their thorns have become emblem of the pain love can inflict whereas snow suggests purity, cleanliness, and innocence. As snow is water in a frozen form there is the sense that it is temporary and ethereal whereas a rose is constant and of itself. Conversely, snow can feel all encompassing, enveloping the landscape and forming a blank canvas which conceals the world underneath it giving the image a sense of simultaneous simplicity and complexity.
The tension of these juxtaposed impressions seems to be an attempt to understand the fundamental nature of all reality, whether visible or invisible. The poem moves quickly from an identifiable and domestic representation of ‘The room’ (l. 1) through the window, outside and to ‘World’ (l. 4). Consequently, there is a movement not only from the interior to the exterior, but from the definite article to nothing. The lack of a determiner makes the line difficult to read, it sounds awkward and there is an awareness that something is missing.
To shift from ‘The’ which restricts the meaning of the noun to make it refer to something specific and something that is known by both the writer and the reader to leaving out a determiner completely creates a tension between what is comprehensible and real to what is beyond understanding and ‘crazier… than we think’ (l. 5). In the second stanza, the poem again moves rapidly from the universal to the individual and from the abstract idea of an infinite and mad world to the specific actions of a first person narrative.
This repositioning of perspective from looking outwards to looking inwards forces introspection and it changes the pace of the poem. The stanza moves from the plural to the singular, as if the ‘Incorrigibly plural’ (l. 6) has frustrated the writer, made him feel that it is hopeless to try and seek an all encompassing ideology and so instead turns his attention to a factual and concrete thing, ‘A tangerine’ (l. 7). Here the indefinite article signals that the tangerine simply refers to an individual object in a general sense rather than specifically as with the room and the window.
Lines 6 and 7 are enjambed so the line ending is not emphasized this allows the stanza to quickly move from the plural and the abstract of ‘we’ and ‘world’ (l. 5) to the singular and figurative ‘I’ and ‘A Tangerine’ (l. 3) ultimately returning to the concept of ‘things’ (l. 4). It is in this second stanza that the poet indicates his awe and excitement in the intimacy and directness of his almost conversational rhythms. It is as if the reader is overhearing his inner astonishment as the poet moves from one impression to another.
Furthermore, there is onomatopoeic feeling in the broad vowels and slow rhythm for the snow contrasted with the jerky rhythms and thinner vowel sounds for the tangerines and pips. The quatrains and the near full rhyme in the last stanza convey unity, while the varying lines and absence of rhyme convey the variety. The last quatrain moves to the interior but begins with a vivid impression of ‘the fire’ (l. 9) again the definite article lets the reader know that it is a specific fire but that it is connected to ‘world’ (l. ) however, this ‘world’ is in lower case, distinguishing it from the two earlier ‘worlds’ thus making it seem a narrower and much smaller space.
Also, this ‘world’ is ‘spiteful’ (l. 10) as well as ‘gay’ (l. 10) consequently there seems again to be an image of underlying menace contrasted with a keenly alive and exuberant sense of ‘world’. In addition, the poet uses the more formal ‘one supposes’ (l. 10) opposed to the previous ‘we fancy’ (l. 4) and ‘we think’ (l. ) this has the effect of distancing the poet from the subject as if he is laying down a hypothesis after careful consideration rather than moving rapidly from one image to another, animated at being caught up in the ‘drunkenness of things being various’ (l. 8)
The last two lines suggest a metaphysical representation of the window as a barrier. All the senses are listed representing what is real and knowable but then it seems that our knowledge is constrained to the empirical world and it is impossible to extend that knowledge through the glass into the realm of the abstract and ideals.
The overall feel of the poem is one of an overwhelmingly direct experience. The last line is weighted with the quiet menace and the implication that the reader must think out for themselves the uniqueness, finality and mystery of specifics that are both ‘collateral and incompatible’ (l. 3). That the nature of things situated side by side are paradoxically so opposed in character as to be incapable of existing together.
MacNeice seems to waver between feeling that there must be a theory of the essence of things, that there must be a set of fundamental principles that organize the universe, and of being so snowed under by sensory experience that all he can do is record the moment of the knowledge and marvel at the sheer enormity of ‘world’. He illustrates this by moving rapidly from impression to impression, reflecting the idea that all things are connected while simultaneously being separate but ultimately it seems that for MacNeice the concrete real exists while abstract universe does not.