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W.D. Snodgrass

Mementos, 1

Easier questions to cut your teeth on!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 22 January 2014
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The poet is rummaging through old documents when he comes across a picture of his wife, but at a time when they were still dating. He is initially shocked upon seeing it but then it brings back a sense of nostalgia because it was this picture which had helped him through the fearful war years.

He is also reminded of the dreadful days of their marriage, when affection disappeared and their relationship ended in divorce. Nevertheless, he keeps the picture and knows that one day he will look at it again.


William De Witt Snodgrass was born in January 1926 in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. He graduated from the local high school in 1943 and thereupon attended Geneva College until 1944 when he was drafted into the United States navy for the remainder of World War II.

After he had been demobilized from the navy in 1946, he moved to the University of Iowa where he enrolled in the Iowa Writers' Workshop, intending initially to become a playwright but eventually joining the poetry workshop. He received a B.A. in 1949, Masters in 1951, and a Masters degree in Fine Arts in 1953.

The poet had a distinguished academic career, teaching at Cornell University, Rochester, Wayne State, Syracuse, Old Dominion and, finally, the University of Delaware. He retired from teaching in 1994 and thereupon devoted himself to his writing.

Although he disliked the title, Snodgrass became known as the father of "the confessional school of poetry", a school that rose to prominence in America during the 1960s and of which Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath were adherents.

He was known to his friends as "Dee" but only published using his initials. He was married no less than four times.

The poet won several awards in poetry, including the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1960.

He died of lung cancer in 2009 at his home in Madison County, New York, at the age of 83. He was survived by Kathleen Snodgrass, his fourth wife who was herself a recognised writer.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

"Sorting out letters and piles of my old
Canceled checks, old clippings, and yellow note cards
That meant something once, I happened to find
Your picture. That picture. I stopped there cold,
Like a man raking piles of dead leaves in his yard
Who has turned up a severed hand."
  • What two words in this stanza tell us that the poet is an American. How would we write these words? (2)

[Need help?]

  • What is a "check"? What is a "canceled check"? Why does the poet still keep the "canceled checks"? (6)

[Need help?]

  • What would "old clippings" refer to? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Why would the "note cards" be yellow? (2)

[Need help?]

  • What is the significance for the poem as a whole of the words "That meant something once"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Why does the poet put the words "that" in italics in the expression "That picture"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • How do you know that finding the picture gives the poet quite a shock? (4)

[Need help?]

"Still, that first second, I was glad: you stand
Just as you stood -- shy, delicate, slender,
In that long gown of green lace netting and daisies
That you wore to our first dance. The sight of you stunned
Us all."
  • Was the poet immediately pleased he had found the photograph? How do you know? (4)

[Need help?]

  • How long had the poet known the woman at the time that the picture had been taken? How do you know? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What was it that the poet found so attractive in her as opposed to their later married life? (4)

[Need help?]

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