16 pages 32 minutes read

Linda Pastan

Blizzard

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1978

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

“Blizzard” (1978) by Linda Pastan is a poem about a woman watching a snowstorm from inside the comfort of her home. The poem draws on traditions of the Romantic movement, specifically the focus on nature and its ability to excite the imagination. Although Pastan is often classified as a Post-Confessional poet who often writes about darker subject matter, everyday fears, dangers, and sorrows of modern life, this is an outlier from her typical poems. It is more whimsical and presents a picture of a woman at rest in the tranquility of nature, even during nature’s period of greatest turmoil, a “Blizzard.”

Poet Biography

Linda Pastan was born in the 1930s and raised in the Bronx. Her parents were progressive Jews and avowed atheists who sent Linda to private schools that focused on teaching ethics, notably using classical myths as parables for morality. Linda began writing while still a college student at Radcliffe and won her first major award, The Dylan Thomas Prize, from Mademoiselle during her senior year. The runner up for this prize was soon-to-be renowned poet Sylvia Plath.

After college, she married medical student, Ira Pastan. Linda abandoned her post-graduate studies at Brandeis when her husband was offered a position at Yale. By now, they had their first of three children, and Linda devoted the next decade of her life to motherhood. Pastan found this frustrating to her ambition as a poet. Her talent needed an outlet. With the encouragement of her husband, she began writing again and was soon winning prizes for her work.

During her writing career, Pastan continued to raise her family on five acres in rural Maryland. Her work focuses on domestic life and the natural world, motifs she attributes to the fact that she is surrounded by woods. One of her prominent themes is the danger lurking underneath the seeming tranquility of everyday life.

In the 1980s, Pastan’s parents passed away, her children left home and she was in a life-threatening car accident. This marked a distinct shift in her writing. Some of her later work focuses even more heavily on mortality. As of 2022, she has published 15 books of poetry and won many of poetry’s top honors. These include a Pushcart Prize, the Dylan Thomas Award, the Di Castagnola Award, the Bess Hokin Prize, the Maurice English Award, the Charity Randall Citation, and the 2003 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. She was also a recipient of a Radcliffe College Distinguished Alumnae Award.

Pastan accepted the position of poet laureate of Maryland in 1991 for one four-year term, has been a Maryland Arts Council Fellow, and continues to serve at the Breadloaf Conference for Writers. She lives in the woods of Maryland on a five-acre property. Much of what she sees in the woods inspires her poetry.

Poem Text

Pastan, Linda. “Blizzard.” 1978. Poetry Foundation.

Summary

“Blizzard” opens with a personification of “the snow” (Line 1), which the speaker says “has forgotten / how to stop” (Lines 2-3). The speaker makes it clear she is watching it from inside her house as “it falls / stuttering / at the glass” (Lines 4-6). She compares it to a “silk windsock” (Line 7) and tells the reader that it is “tangling trees” (Line 11). She personifies the trees, too, saying that the snow causes them to “bend” (Line 12), “snarled / in their own / knitting” (Lines 14-16). The snow is coming up to the “step / over the doorsill” (Lines 18-19) and resembles “a pointillist’s blur” (Line 20).

The “pointillist’s blur” (Line 20) of snow mingles both form and motion, “shaping itself / to the wish of / any object it touches” (Lines 23-25). For example, the snow shapes itself over the chairs, becoming “laps of snow” (Line 27). In the last lines, the speaker speculates on where the snow comes from, saying “the moon could be / breaking apart / and falling” (Lines 28-30). She also compares the snow to “a white bear / shaking its paw / at the window”. (Lines 33-35) If the snow is a white bear, then the speaker speculates that winter is a “hive” (Line 36) that the bear is “splitting” (Line 36) open so that the snow, like bees who live in a hive, are “stinging” (Line 38) the air. In the final movement of the poem, the speaker switches her attention from the snow to herself, saying “I pull a comforter / of snow / up to my chin / and tumble / to sleep” (Lines 40-44). Lastly, she compares the snow to an “alphabet / of silence” (Lines 46-47) that “falls out of the / sky” (Lines 48-49).

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