Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Heart’s Needle” is about possibilities and limits. On the narrative level, Snodgrass asks if it is possible for a father and daughter to be physically separated, with the attendant distortions of the psyche for both, and still remain a father and daughter. At various points it appears impossible, particularly when the child has asthma attacks, quarrels with her new stepsister, or goes off to another state. Similarly when the father remarries, has a new child, or sinks into paralyzing bitterness, the odds for maintaining a family relationship diminish.

Snodgrass finds that the continuing union, on this level, remains either mysterious, unexplainable, or the result of willful action alone. In section 10, father and daughter go on a picnic and feed the animals, where he reaffirms that “you are still my daughter.” The narrative throughout, however, has been sustained by a pattern of interlocking images which from the beginning raises this question: Is it possible in this world for the world to stay together? In Snodgrass’s realm, father and daughter are microcosms, parts of a broader network of actions and meanings.

The answer to both questions is finally yes; however, the affirmation is painfully won and quietly expressed. One misses the point of the struggle if one does not understand the connections between different forces at work in the universe. Everything “wails on its oval track.” Seasons, war, the food chain, festival holidays, birth...

(The entire section is 605 words.)