W. D. Snodgrass, 1926-2009
W. D. Snodgrass died yesterday at his home in upstate New York. I can’t say I know a lot of his work. I’ve only taught a poem or two of his in the past, but I can say that I recognize a bit of myself in his poem “April Inventory”. I’m a bit older than Snodgrass was when he wrote that poem–about 9 years, judging by the copyright date–but working as I do on a college campus, I can certainly relate to these lines:
The girls have grown so young by now
I have to nudge myself to stare.
This year they smile and mind me how
My teeth are falling with my hair.
In thirty years I may not get
Younger, shrewder, or out of debt.
That feeling has been driven home particularly well this year since my daughter started college. That, combined with my teaching of Freshman Composition for the first time in a couple of years, really made me feel old. I actually had a student in my class who had been a classmate of my daughter when she lived with me after Hurricane Katrina. No more fooling myself into thinking that I had something in common with my students–all the hip-hop listening in the world won’t bridge that gap, I’m afraid.
The poem, in the end, is about coming to grips with the differences between one’s expectations and the realities of one’s life, and accepting them. The poem concludes:
There is a gentleness survives
That will outspeak and has its reasons.
There is a loveliness exists,
Preserves us, not for specialists.
That’s a pretty ending, if not particularly illuminating, but given that the poem has a touch of the mid-life crisis in it while the poet is barely thirty-one, I guess I can forgive it.