“There were more important things. Miracles. Beyond the thoughts of trees, mere elms. Beyond the thoughts of sidewalks, mere stone, mere brick, mere cement. Beyond the thoughts even of his own shoes, which trod these sidewalks obediently, bearing a burden—far above—of elaborate mystery. He watched them. They were not very well polished; he had neglected them, for a very good reason: they were one of the many parts of the increasing difficulty of the daily return to daily life, the morning struggle. To get up, having at last opened one’s eyes, to go to the window, and discover no snow, to wash, to dress, to descend the curving stairs to breakfast.”
Conrad Aiken has for years seemed to me—much like the inner blizzard of this story’s young protagonist—a secret, preciously concealed, and to that very fact he owed an enormous part of his deliciousness. By the time I founded The Scofield, a literary magazine that focused on underappreciated authors, I felt duty-bound to forsake that secret deliciousness by building an issue around my favorite writer no one reads. If the luggage of consciousness is what I am stalking in the hunt for great literature, then Aiken belongs near the top of my list, as he is without doubt one of the most consciousness-obsessed men to have put pen to paper. Though he did not invent the “stream of consciousness” techniques, he was the first to wed these formal modernist experiments in consciousness to the psychoanalytic theories contemporaneously being developed by Sigmund Freud. In ‘Silent Snow, Secret Snow,’ Paul Hasleman, a school-age boy, grows distant from “the ordinary business of daily life” as he daydreams of snow. Only in James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’ and Anna Kavan’s Ice, two other wintery masterpieces, does the snow possess such mythopoetic (and psychopoetic) heft.
First published in the August 1932 issue of The Virginia Quarterly Review, included in The Collected Short Stories of Conrad Aiken, World Publishing Company, 1960, which had a new Kindle-only release from Open Road Media in 2015, and available online at VQR Online