Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 566

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.

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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 blinds one to the loveliness of the world beyond academic ambition and isolates one from the gentleness and nurturing aspect of personal relationships. The “authority” of the scornful scholars in their “starchy collars” causes ulcers and, presumably, speaks in the rhythms of conventional rhyme and meter. This authority is offset by the speaker’s “equivocating eye,” which in academic circles is a deficit but in “the lovely world” can see the human worth beneath appearances. Throughout the poem, the academic world is seen to be at odds with the human. The mind that lapses from the strict discipline of scholarship and falls short of its demands cannot prosper in that world, but, ironically, it is through doubt, equivocation, and human imperfection that the speaker has acquired knowledge of his real worth and the “lovely world” outside. Discovery of what is in the heart is at the heart of this poem. In the end, the poem reaches beyond the personal to include all of humanity in its plea to discover where the loveliness lies, to get in touch with the worth beneath the outer trappings of life, and to feel the gentleness.

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