Mementos 1 Snodgrass Analysis Essay

Mementos, 1 – W.D. Snodgrass

Snodgrass is at pains to reveal the repressed violent feelings that often lurk beneath the seemingly placid surface of everyday life.

The poem is self-analytical.

Subject Matter:

We are taken through a wide range of emotions sparked by the speaker’s memories of a lost love when he stumbled upon her photograph taken when they had first met. He reminisces about his journey through life with this woman as well as her image.


Anecdotal + conversational.



·Speaker describes how he came across a special picture of his ex-wife.

·The picture brought back memories, now long dead.

·He is for a moment reminded, pleasantly, of how attractive she had been.

·Then he remembers how the photo had helped him survive the emotional trauma of war.

·This reminds him of the suffering they both endured during their marriage and divorce.


Separation of man and wife:

·Encountering physical reminders of past loves. This causes us to come to terms anew each time with what they meant – and mean – to us.

·The poem captures the sorrow, regrets + bitter sweetness of going through boxes and finding mementos.

·The poem gives voice to the hurt and regret felt by so many when they find they have been betrayed by the one they love.

The picture is more than a memento because:

·Although it has been discarded amongst seemingly unimportant things, like old letters, it remains important.

·If it was only a memento, the poet would not react to it as violently as he does with the image of the severed hand.

·The picture has the power to trigger very strong and specific memories of what she looked like and his war experience.

·The pain that he feels is clear in the final stanza, where he talks of the “treachery” and “sickness”.

·He is still unable to deal with the depth of the hurt. He puts the picture away and the suggestion is that when he finds it again, it will be easier to deal with it.

Nightmare of the everyday:

·Poet is engaged in the very simple, everyday task of sorting old papers when he comes across the picture.

·The shock of this is extreme – he uses the nightmare image of the severed hand to describe his reaction.

·Although he refers to images of war, these are not given as much impact as the experience of finding the photo.

·Final stanza is filled with images of the nightmare of their relationship. The life-force is drained out, and the eyes are sick with betrayal.

·The poem is about the everyday nightmare of betrayal and the loss of love.

William De Witt Snodgrass (January 5, 1926 – January 13, 2009) was an American poet who also wrote under the pseudonym S. S. Gardons. He won the 1960 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.


W. D. Snodgrass was born on January 5, 1926, in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, to Bruce De Witt, an accountant, and Jesse Helen (Murchie) Snodgrass. The family lived in Wilkinsburg, but drove to Beaver Falls for his birth since his grandfather was a doctor in the town. Eventually the family moved to Beaver Falls and Snodgrass graduated from the local high school in 1943. He then attended Geneva College until 1944 when he was drafted into the United States Navy. After demobilization in 1946, Snodgrass transferred to the University of Iowa and enrolled in the Iowa Writers' Workshop, originally intending to become a playwright but eventually joining the poetry workshop[1] which was attracting as teachers some of the finest poetic talents of the day, among them John Berryman, Randall Jarrell and Robert Lowell. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1949, a Master of Arts degree in 1951, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1953.[2]

Snodgrass was known to friends throughout his life as "De", pronounced "dee",[3] but only published using his initials. He had a long and distinguished academic career, having taught at Cornell (1955-7), Rochester (1957-8), Wayne State (1959–68), Syracuse (1968–1977), Old Dominion (1978-9), and the University of Delaware.[3] He retired from teaching in 1994[3] to devote himself full-time to his writing. This included autobiographical sketches, essays, and the critical verse "deconstructions" of De/Construct. He died in his home in Madison County, New York, aged 83, following a four-month battle with lung cancer,[3] and was survived by his fourth wife, writer Kathleen Snodgrass.

Snodgrass had married his first wife, Lila Jean Hank, in 1946, by whom he had a daughter, Cynthia Jean. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1953 and it was the separation from his daughter as a result that became the subject of his first collection, Heart's Needle. The following year Snodgrass married his second wife, Janice Marie Ferguson Wilson. Together they have a son, Russell Bruce, and a stepdaughter, Kathy Ann Wilson. Divorcing again in 1966, he married his third wife, Camille Rykowski in 1967 but this ended in 1978. His fourth marriage to Kathleen Ann Brown was in 1985.[2]

Literary career[edit]

Snodgrass's first poems appeared in 1951, and throughout the 1950s he published in some of the most prestigious magazines: Botteghe Oscure, Partisan Review, The New Yorker, The Paris Review and The Hudson Review. However, in 1957, five sections from a sequence entitled "Heart's Needle" were included in Hall, Pack and Simpson's anthology, New Poets of England and America, and these were to mark a turning-point. When Lowell had been shown early versions of these poems, in 1953, he had disliked them, but now he was full of admiration.

By the time Heart's Needle was published, in 1959, Snodgrass had already won The Hudson Review Fellowship in Poetry and an Ingram Merrill Foundation Poetry Prize. However, his first book brought him more: a citation from the Poetry Society of America, a grant from the National Institute of Arts, and, most important of all, 1960's Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. It is often said that Heart's Needle inaugurated confessional poetry. Snodgrass disliked the term. Still, it should be pointed out that the genre he was reviving here seemed revolutionary to most of his contemporaries, reared as they had been on the anti-expressionistic principles of the New Critics. Snodgrass's confessional work was to have a profound effect on many of his contemporaries, amongst them, most importantly, Robert Lowell.

Being tagged with this label affected his work and its reception and forced him into small-press publication for many years. Two new themes (eventually) restored his reputation, although at the time they first began to appear there was a perception by some that Snodgrass had "wrecked his career".[4] One was The Führer Bunker cycle of poems, monologues by Adolf Hitler and his circle in the closing days of the Third Reich, a "poem in progress" that began to appear from 1977 onwards and was finally completed in 1995. An adaptation of these for the stage was performed in the 1980s.[5] The other theme was the series written in response to DeLoss McGraw's surrealistic paintings, which eventually grew into a partnership. In these poems, often uproariously rhymed, Snodgrass stood his former confessional style on its head at the same time as satirizing contemporary attitudes.



  • 1959: Heart's Needle
  • 1968: After Experience: Poems and Translations
  • 1968: Leaving the Motel
  • 1970: Remains
  • 1977: The Führer Bunker: A Cycle of Poems in Progress
  • 1979: If Birds Build with Your Hair
  • 1981: These Trees Stand
  • 1982: Heinrich Himmler
  • 1983: The Boy Made of Meat
  • 1983: Magda Goebbels
  • 1984: D. D. Byrde Callying Jennie Wrenn
  • 1986: The Kinder Capers
  • 1986: A Locked House
  • 1987: Selected Poems: 1957-1987
  • 1988: W. D.'s Midnight Carnival
  • 1989: The Death of Cock Robin
  • 1993: Each in His Season
  • 1995: The Führer Bunker: The Complete Cycle
  • 2006: Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems[7]


  • In Radical Pursuit: Critical Essays and Lectures (1975)
  • After-images: autobiographical sketches (1999)[8]
  • To Sound Like Yourself: Essays on Poetry (2002)



  • Gallows Song (1967)
  • Six Troubadour Songs (1977)
  • Traditional Hungarian Songs (1978)
  • Six Minnesinger Songs (1983)
  • The Four Seasons (1984)
  • Five Romanian Ballads, Cartea Romaneasca (1993)
  • Selected Translations (1998) (Harold Morton Landon Translation Award)[9]
  • De/Compositions: 101 Good Poems Gone Wrong (2001)[10]


  • W. D. Snodgrass (Twayne's United States authors series; TUSAS 316) by Paul L. Gaston
  • The Poetry of W. D. Snodgrass: Everything Human (Under Discussion) by Stephen Haven (Editor)
  • No music, no poem: Interviews with W.R. Moses & W.D. Snodgrass by Roy Scheele
  • W.D. Snodgrass: A bibliography by William White
  • Tuned and Under Tension: The Recent Poetry of W.D. Snodgrass (edited by Philip Raisor)[11]
  • W.D. Snodgrass and The Führer bunker: an interview, Gaston
  • The First Confessionalist, an interview with Ernest Hilbert in Contemporary Poetry Review[3]
  • An examination of "Discourses on the apostolical succession, by W.D. Snodgrass, D.D by William Johnson
  • American Writers: A Collection of Literary Biographies, Supplement Vi, Don Delillo to W. D. Snodgrass, edited by Jay Parini
  • Everything Human: On the Poetry of W. D. Snodgrass by Richard Howard


Poem Links[edit]

Online poetry links that lead to pieces written by William De Witt Snodgrass:

External links[edit]

  1. ^W.D.Snodgrass, After-images: autobiographical sketches, Rochester NY, 1999, p.89ff,
  2. ^ abSee the biographical sketch at
  3. ^ abcd"Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.D. Snodgrass dies", Associated Press, January 14, 2009, retrieved same day
  4. ^See Philip Raisor's introduction to Tuned and Under Tension (Cranbury NJ, 1998, pp.17-25)
  5. ^David Metzger, "Medievalism and the Problem of Radical Evil in Snodgrass's The Fuehrer Bunker," in: Medievalism in the Modern World. Essays in Honour of Leslie J. Workman, ed. Richard Utz and Tom Shippey (Turnhout: Brepols, 1998), 393-407. Snodgrass made comments to Metzger on early drafts of his essay.
  6. ^Years link to corresponding "year in poetry" article
  7. ^preview to p.58
  8. ^preview
  9. ^limited preview
  10. ^See the review here [1]; contents and first three poems at [2]
  11. ^limited preview to p.29

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