Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 557
The sixty lines of “April Inventory” comprise ten stanzas of six lines each. The stanzas consist of a quatrain followed by a couplet, rhyming ababcc. Though W. D. Snodgrass varies the metric foot in many of his lines, the basic structure is iambic tetrameter. Many of the structural features create an interplay between fluidity and disconnection, between pause and flow. All the stanzas are closed, for example, and within all but two of them the concluding couplet is set off from the quatrain by punctuation. These minor divisions create distinct units of thought, while other features—such as the repetition of words, enjambment, and rhyme—sustain the poem’s continuity.
The focus of the speaker’s subjectivity is established from the beginning. The blooming of the trees reminds him of his own failure to blossom, both academically and personally. They will lose their flowers and leaves, and he will lose his teeth and hair, not to be replenished by another spring as the flowers and leaves will be. In the fourth stanza, as the speaker turns from the spring blossoms and their symbolic meaning to the academic world, the natural and the human elements merge. The girls he teaches have the pinkness of the cherry blossom, and they “Bloom gradually out of reach,” as the cherry tree does. His attention broadens to include his friends, parents, and psychoanalyst—all those who expect him to flower—as he reviews his failure in academic pursuits: He has not read “one book about a book,” memorized a plot, remembered the one date he learned, or found a mind he did not doubt. As a consequence, his colleagues, and not he, have advanced.
Midway through his inventory, his introspection takes another turn, and the mood shifts from the negative to the positive—from his academic failures to the modest successes in his private life. If he has fallen short in the world of books, he can name some accomplishments in personal relationships. Implicit in his assessment is that human contact and love offer more promise to him than academic competition and career obligations. He taught his classes “Whitehead’s notions,” taught a young woman “a song of Mahler’s,” and taught a child “the colors of/ A luna moth and how to love.” He has learned to be tender, nurturing, caring. What he has, and has not, learned has brought important understanding and the ability to see better how he still can grow. He has not learned the old lie, that love “shall be blonder, slimmer, younger”; that he loves by his “body’s hunger”; or “that the lovely world is real.” Yet he has achieved a better perspective on himself and his academic shortcomings: As scholars develop ulcers and the seasons pass, he is left with the knowledge of his own worth. His inventory has brought him self-understanding and self-assurance, and the poem ends on triumphant acceptance of his own limitations and eventual decline, for he now knows that he has the strength to endure, as well as gentleness. He now can see beyond the narrow world of academics, can see that in the world at large “a loveliness exists,/ Preserves us.” Ironically, he has had to fail in one respect to succeed in another, more important one, and in the expression of this ultimate insight he includes his readers.
Forms and Devices
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 399
Despite the freshness of its highly personal voice, the poem is grounded in tradition. By using the same stanzaic structure William Wordsworth used in his famous lyric “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” Snodgrass gives notice that the ancestry of his poem is Romantic. This tradition is evident also in the speaker’s affinity for natural objects and in his seeing his own condition mirrored in seasonal changes in the landscape, particularly the trees. The fact that the speaker is introspective, solitary, contemplative, even melancholy, is reminiscent of the Romantic spirit.
The use of conventional devices is a constant reminder throughout the poem that the speaker is a scholar struggling to come to terms with his academic obligations. Convention offers the advantages of structure, organization, and direction; at the same time, it limits the speaker to pursuits that are unsuitable to his intellectual and emotional interests and gifts. The poem’s structural features and language reflect the speaker’s dual loyalties. The poem’s vocabulary, for example, is for the most part modern, but it includes echoes of Snodgrass’s literary forebears. In the first stanza, “The blossoms snow down in my hair,” recalls the well-known line in the poem “Song” by Metaphysical poet John Donne, “Till age snow white haires on thee.” In the third stanza, “they smile and mind me how” recalls a similar usage by Walt Whitman in “Song of Myself”: “I mind how once we lay.”
These elements, together with the use of rhyme, meter, simile, and stanzaic structure, play off the poem’s departure from convention as the poet conducts his self-examination in a mode that is thoroughly modern. Readers see him, as it were, on the analyst’s couch confessing his innermost feelings and very private concerns, including self-doubt, a sense of failure, and moral errancy, evident in his “equivocating eye” that loves only by his “body’s hunger.” He is conscious of his falling teeth and hair; the “dandruff on a tabletop” is probably his own; he cannot remember plots, names, dates. The six iambic tetrameter lines set within closed stanzaic units offer a secure framework well suited to the confessor’s self-doubts, vocal rhythms, and need for guidance as he takes stock of his life. The revelations are delivered in measured units of thought that can be seen as distinct stages in the speaker’s growing awareness of his own worth.