Heart's Needle by William DeWitt Snodgrass: Summary and Analysis

Heart's Needle by William DeWitt Snodgrass, also known by his pseudonym S. S. Gardons was first published in 1959 in the collection of Heart’s Needle. Immediately after the publication, this poem was praised for its straightforwardness, important message, and autobiographical elements. This poem bagged the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Snodgrass in 1960. In this famous poem, the poet shows his failing relationship with his daughter.

William D. Snodgrass (1926-2009)

The poet dedicates this poem to his daughter Cynthia. He relates the story of king of Ulster, who became mad, has left the society because of the curse he got from a bishop, and lived in a tree. One day, he received a message that his all family members are dead except one daughter, who has been a needle of the heart.

Snodgrass brings the images of the Korean War that began in the same winter of his daughter's birth, against images of caretaking. During her visits he and the little girl plant a garden, go bird watching in the marshes, feed animals in the park. He learns to cook so he can fix her supper. The context of the war functions to illuminate the plight of loveless men doomed to banishment and conflict. The divorced father feels as helpless and lonely as the soldiers freezing in a foreign country, longing n- home: "I've gone / As men must." The poem's emotional center is Snodgrass claim that "I am your real mother"; what does a man need to change in himself in order to care for a child? A new marriage gives him a comforting structure for his life, but for instruction in the role of father he visits the Museum of Natural History, where the dioramas of wildlife offer him vignettes f relationship that he rakes to heart. The poem ends in the spring, with a visit to the zoo. Nothing is resolved in the ongoing war between the child's parents, but life reasserts itself in new generations. Some bonds are simply given, whether or not they are understand.

The structure of the poem is lightly narrative, as it goes on drawing the divorce of the poet with his wife and the pain of the separation with daughter.  His voice in different stanzas turns to be harsh, regretful, and rebellious. This poem is a perfect example of painful expression of a father while visiting his daughter.

The separation and its pain is one important theme in this poem. After the divorce, the father and daughter separates and meets occasionally for a brief time. The gap of time and the changes that occur in their personal lives brought emotional distances between them. He feels the loss of fatherhood whenever he is separated from his daughter. The changing seasons inversely symbolize the change of relationship between father and daughter. The season changes, but will be same in the next year, but the differences in their relationship changes each and every year. The father in the concluding line of the poem states that whatever happened in their life and relationship, she is still his daughter. His fatherly love and concern is crystal clear here.

Related Topics

April Inventory: Summary and Analysis

William DeWitt Snodgrass: Biography