April Inventory by William DeWitt Snodgrass: Summary and Critical Analysis

April Inventory is a confessional poem by William DeWitt Snodgrass in which the poet has revealed how he has made a list (inventory) of things he has missed, throughout his youth (April/Spring), but how he is still attracted to those things even now when he is an old professor with fallen teeth and skinny body. One of the things he is secretly interested in is the pink and plump young girls, his students!

William D. Snodgrass (1926-2009)

The kind of feelings he expresses in the poem cannot be 'excused' unless one takes them as only psychologically significant. Besides his 'libido' for the students, he also confesses that he has not quite read and never properly taught! He also meditates on his failures, academically, financially, and in other ways.

This poem is a frank confessional poem, and the speaker focuses on his personal and deeply subjective issues. The blooming of the trees reminds him of his own failure to blossom, both academically and personally. The trees will lose their flowers and leaves, and he will lose his teeth and hair, not to be restored by another spring as the flowers and leaves will be. A little later in the poem, the speaker turns from the spring blossoms and their symbolic meaning to the academic world. As the natural world wanes into the bleakness of winter, the speaker also grows old.

The girls he teaches have the pinkness of the cherry blossom and they "bloom gradually out of reach", as the cherry trees do. He also remembers what his family, friends and even his psychoanalyst –all those who expect him to flower have always told him; they have wished and told him to prosper academically and perhaps also in many other ways, but as he reviews his failure in academic pursuits, he feels that he has achieved nothing better in life. He has not read one book, memorized a plot or found a mind he did not doubt. In the middle of this inventory (list of things), his introspection takes another turn, and the mood shifts from the negative to the positive, from his academic failure to the modest successes in his private life. If he has fallen short in the world of books, he nevertheless gained some other things like love and made some accomplishments in personal relationship. We can feel that human contact and love offers more promise to him than academic successes and career obligations. He taught his classes. He has learned to be tender and caring. He has not learned the old lie, that love “shall be blonder, slimmer, and younger.” Yet he has achieved a better vision about the actually satisfying things of life like love and understanding of others and himself. He has found his weaknesses and failures but he has also realized what his worth is. His inventory has brought him self-understanding and self-assurance, and the poem end on an acceptance of his own limitations and eventual decline, for he now knows that he has the strength to endure them and he has the gentleness of an enlightened man. He now can see beyond the narrow world of academics and can see that in the world at large "loveliness exist, / preserves us". Ironically, he has had to fail in one respect to succeed in another more important one, and in the expression of the ultimate insight, he includes his readers as well. The poem turns out to be less 'vulgar' and morally unacceptable than it seemed to be in the beginning.

The poem is romantic in subject and treatment of it. This is evident in the speaker’s affinity for natural objects and in his seeing his own condition mirrored in seasonal changes. The fact that the speaker is introspective, solitary, contemplative, even melancholy, is reminiscent of the Romantic spirit. The speaker is a scholar struggling to come to terms with his academic obligations. Snodgrass conveys the landscape of his life with the same equipoise and solitary grace with which Wordsworth regards the golden daffodils. The catalpa tree, green with white blossoms, symbolizes the speaker’s fundamental ambivalence toward himself. The April of the little represents early spring. 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 keeps the poem from slipping into maudlin self-pity. The speaker is practicing poetic skill as much as he is confessing. 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. In the end the poem reaches beyond the personal to include all of humanity in its plea to discover where the loveliness list, to get in touch with the worth beneath the outer trapping of life, and to feel the gentler aspects of this otherwise harsh life.

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Shrestha, Roma. "April Inventory by William DeWitt Snodgrass: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 19 Nov. 2013, bachelorandmaster.com/britishandamericanpoetry/april-inventory.html.

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William DeWitt Snodgrass: Biography