April Inventory Themes
by W. D. Snodgrass

Start Your Free Trial

Download April Inventory Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Snodgrass surveys the landscape of his life with the same equipoise and solitary grace with which Wordsworth regards the golden daffodils in his poem. There the resemblance ends, however, for Snodgrass’s subject is pointedly himself—his failures and modest accomplishments. The catalpa tree, green with white blossoms, symbolizes the speaker’s fundamental ambivalence toward himself. The April of the title represents early spring, when the natural landscape is festooned with blossoms. Yet April also reminds one of T. S. Eliot’s pronouncement in The Waste Land (1922) that “April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land.” This sentiment underlies what the poet says of his own landscape: Though it is spring and the natural world is blossoming, and his colleagues in the academic world are prospering, his own efforts have not borne fruit; moreover, he is all too aware of his own physical decline. This April inventory is a cruel revelation that he has fallen far short of his early promise and that his time is short.

Despite the speaker’s emphasis on his own failings, he conducts his inventory with a detachment that keeps the poem from slipping into maudlin self-pity and self-abasement. One of the ways he maintains control is to keep the reader’s attention on the manner of his speaking and on the poetic conventions he is employing. While being deeply sincere and personal, he is also showing wit and dexterity in the use of rhyme, meter, and language. “I taught myself to name my name,” for example, momentarily diverts one’s attention from the speaker’s feelings to his skill with language, and the couplets concluding every stanza reiterate the fact that the speaker is practicing poetic skill as much as he is confessing. He confesses to having made “a little list” for the tenth time of all that he ought to know, and he has told others he would be “substantial, presently.” That final qualifier, “presently,” has the wry irony of one who knows the futility of promising what is not in his heart to do. He is sincere enough to admit that in some ways he is not entirely sincere.

The antithesis of the speaker’s personal vision is the narrowness of scholarship, which...

(The entire section is 566 words.)