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W.D. Snodgrass

Mementos, 1

More challenging questions!

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:

"Well, our needs were different, then,
And our ideals came easy."
  • What does the poet mean when he says, "Our needs were different, then."? (4)

[Need help?]

  • In what way would their ideals have come easy? (2)

[Need help?]

"Then through the war and those two long years
Overseas, the Japanese dead in their shacks
Among dishes, dolls, and lost shoes; I carried
This glimpse of you, there, to choke down my fear,
Prove it had been, that it might come back.
That was before we got married."
  • To what war was the poet referring? (1)

[Need help?]

  • How seriously did the poet take this war. How do you know? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why would the photograph had enabled the poet "to choke down [his] fear"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is the poet's TONE as revealed in his words, "That was before we got married"? Explain your choice. (4)

[Need help?]

"That was before we got married.

Before we drained out one another's force
With lies, self-denial, unspoken regret
And the sick eyes that blame; before the divorce
And the treachery. Say it: before we met. Still,
I put back your picture. Someday, in due course,
I will find that it's still there."
  • Explain what was wrong with the marriage. (6)

[Need help?]

  • What does the poet mean by "the treachery"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why does the poet keep the picture rather than throwing it away? (4)

[Need help?]

Is it possible for two people -- who had dated casually before the war -- to get together two year later, with their only contact having been by way of snail-mail letters and then to make a success of marriage? (10)

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