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March 18, 1997 From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

William De Witt Snodgrass was born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, on January 5, 1926. He attended Geneva College and then served in the United States Navy until 1946. He then attended the State University of Iowa, where he earned his MFA in 1953. His early work was compared to the work of Robert Lowell and Randall Jarrell, both of which were his teachers.

His first collection of poetry, Heart's Needle, was published in 1959 and received the Pulitzer Prize in 1960. Since then, he has published numerous books of poetry, including Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems (BOA Editions, 2006); The Führer Bunker: The Complete Cycle (1995); Each in His Season (1993); Selected Poems, 1957-1987; The Führer Bunker: A Cycle of Poems in Progress (1977), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and produced by Wynn Handman for The American Place Theatre; and After Experience (1968).

He is often credited as being one of the founding members of the "confessional" movement, though he did not consider his poetry as fitting in that school. About his own work, Snodgrass said, "I first became known for poems of a very personal nature, especially those about losing a daughter in a divorce. Many of those early poems were in formal metres and had an 'open' surface. All through my career, however, I have written both free verse and formal metres."

He also produced two books of literary criticism, To Sound Like Yourself: Essays on Poetry (2003) and In Radical Pursuit (1975), and six volumes of translation, including Selected Translations (BOA Editions, 1998), which won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award.

His honors include an Ingram Merrill Foundation award and a special citation from the Poetry Society of America, and fellowships from The Academy of American Poets, the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He lived in upstate New York and died on January 13, 2009.

A Selected Bibliography


Heart's Needle (1959)
After Experience: Poems and Translations (1968)
Remains (1970)
The Führer Bunker: A Cycle of Poems in Progress (1977)
If Birds Build with Your Hair (1979)
These Trees Stand (1981)
Heinrich Himmler (1982)
The Boy Made of Meat (1983)
Magda Goebbels (1983)
6 Minnesinger Songs (Burning Deck, 1983)
D. D. Byrde Callying Jennie Wrenn (1984)
The Kinder Capers (1986)
A Locked House (1986)
Selected Poems: 1957-1987 (1987)
W. D.'s Midnight Carnival (1988)
The Death of Cock Robin (1989)
Each in His Season (1993)
The Führer Bunker: The Complete Cycle (1995)
Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems (2006)


In Radical Pursuit: Critical Essays and Lectures (1975)
De/Compositions (2001)
To Sound Like Yourself: Essays on Poetry (2002)


Gallows Song (1967)
Six Troubadour Songs (1977)
Traditional Hungarian Songs (1978)
Six Minnesinger Songs (1983)
The Four Seasons (1984)
Five Romanian Ballads, Cartea Romaneasca (1993)
Selected Translations (1998)


The Führer Bunker (1981)

April Inventory

The green catalpa tree has turned
All white; the cherry blooms once more.
In one whole year I haven't learned
A blessed thing they pay you for.
The blossoms snow down in my hair;
The trees and I will soon be bare.

The trees have more than I to spare.
The sleek, expensive girls I teach,
Younger and pinker every year,
Bloom gradually out of reach.
The pear tree lets its petals drop
Like dandruff on a tabletop.

The girls have grown so young by now
I have to nudge myself to stare.
This year they smile and mind me how
My teeth are falling with my hair.
In thirty years I may not get
Younger, shrewder, or out of debt.

The tenth time, just a year ago,
I made myself a little list
Of all the things I'd ought to know,
Then told my parents, analyst,
And everyone who's trusted me
I'd be substantial, presently.

I haven't read one book about
A book or memorized one plot.
Or found a mind I did not doubt.
I learned one date.  And then forgot.
And one by one the solid scholars
Get the degrees, the jobs, the dollars.

And smile above their starchy collars.
I taught my classes Whitehead's notions;
One lovely girl, a song of Mahler's.
Lacking a source-book or promotions,
I showed one child the colors of
A luna moth and how to love.

I taught myself to name my name,
To bark back, loosen love and crying;
To ease my woman so she came,
To ease an old man who was dying.
I have not learned how often I
Can win, can love, but choose to die.

I have not learned there is a lie
Love shall be blonder, slimmer, younger;
That my equivocating eye
Loves only by my body's hunger;
That I have forces true to feel,
Or that the lovely world is real.

While scholars speak authority
And wear their ulcers on their sleeves,
My eyes in spectacles shall see
These trees procure and spend their leaves.
There is a value underneath
The gold and silver in my teeth.

Though trees turn bare and girls turn wives,
We shall afford our costly seasons;
There is a gentleness survives
That will outspeak and has its reasons.
There is a loveliness exists,
Preserves us, not for specialists.

From Heart's Needle by W. D. Snodgrass, published by Alfred A. Knopf. Copyright © 1957, 1959 by W. D. Snodgrass. Used with permission.

From Heart's Needle by W. D. Snodgrass, published by Alfred A. Knopf. Copyright © 1957, 1959 by W. D. Snodgrass. Used with permission.

W. D. Snodgrass

W. D. Snodgrass

William De Witt Snodgrass was born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, on January 5, 1926.

by this poet


These lawn chairs and the chaise lounge
of bulky redwood were purchased for my father
twenty years ago, then plumped down in the yard
where he seldom went when he could still work
and never had stayed long. His left arm
in a sling, then lopped off, he smoked there or slept
while the



For Cynthia
When Suibhe would not return to fine garments and good food, to his houses and his people, Loingseachan told him, "Your father is dead." "I'm sorry to hear it," he said. "Your mother is dead," said the lad. "All pity for me has gone out of the world." "

“Fish oils,” my doctor snorted, “and oily fish
are actually good for you. What’s actually wrong
for anyone your age are all those dishes
with thick sauce that we all pined for so long
as we were young and poor. Now we can afford
to order such things, just not to digest them;
we find