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Analysis of Mementos I by W.D.Snodgrass

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In W. D. Snodgrass's "Mementos, 1", we are taken through a wide range of emotions sparked by the speaker's memories of a lost love when he stumbles upon her photograph taken when they had first met. The speaker reminisces about his journey through life with this woman as well as her image. He appears at times to be talking to the memory of this former love, as well as this traveled and forgotten photograph. The poem begins with the speaker sifting through his "old Canceled checks, old clippings and yellow note cards/ That meant something once. These are pieces of his past, which are useless, yet kept, perhaps in a dusty drawer- long forgotten. He reacts with horror when among the pieces of his flotsam; he discovers the photograph of his former wife and love. "Your picture. That picture."The level of his shock and horror at his discovery is evidenced by his description of himself as "a man raking piles of dead leaves in his yard/ Who has turned up a severed hand". It is more than clear that this love did not end well.

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‘Mementos, 1’ was written by W.D Snodgrass in the 1960s. I could go through how the ‘old clippings’ represent memories past, or how the subject concerns his divorce; however, the strongest point here lies in the poem’s relationship with the Second World War, which like the speaker’s marriage, is but a collection of memories. Snodgrass notes this with ‘Through the war… the Japanese dead in their shacks’. World wars hold immense significance, namely because the entire globe was involved. Consequently, the worldwide perception of warfare was changed. Gone were the 19th century ideals of honour, valour and dying for your country no longer seemed like such a great idea after the advent of tanks, machine guns, nuclear bombs; instead, the people’s will to maintain world peace has been very prevalent since 1945. Effectively, we have had to divorce ourselves from society’s previous perceptions of war; we had to divorce ourselves from our past. But to ‘divorce’ something, is only to break an association with someone or something, not to completely ignore or deny its existence. And that is why Snodgrass decides to keep ‘that picture’. His marriage, much like society’s marriage to warfare, did happen. That is undeniable. Both marriages brought ‘treachery’ and ‘unspoken regret’ onto all parties involved; however, good times were also had. Speak to any Briton over Britain’s greatest point in history and they will tell you of a time when colonial domination was rife, concentration camps were being used on Boers in South Africa, and profits from the slave trade were used to build beautiful cities like Bristol. Readers, they speak of the British Empire. I doubt that the same list would be compiled by those more patriotic than I; however, the point remains: although the British Empire brought the world many horrors, it also brought the world many gifts. For this, we must be happy. Simultaneously, we must be ashamed.

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Summing up, reviewer for Poetry magazine offers a different assessment, asserting that “among the major poets of his generation it would be difficult to find a wittier or more exuberant writer—or one more committed to the making of verbal music.” “If Snodgrass is not always convincing as plaintiff or prosecutor,” the critic concludes, “he is both pleasing and persuasive in his role as lyric poet, the ‘robin with green face,’ singing exquisitely of ‘all things vile and ugly.’” After teaching for 40 years, Snodgrass retired in 1995 to focus on his writing. He died in early 2009 at his home in Erieville, New York, where he lived for many years.

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Analysis of Mementos I by W.D.Snodgrass
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