Monet: “Les Nymphéas”

By W. D. Snodgrass 1926–2009
The eyelids glowing, some chill morning.
O world half-known through opening, twilit lids   
    Before the vague face clenches into light;
O universal waters like a cloud,
    Like those first clouds of half-created matter;
O all things rising, rising like the fumes
    From waters falling, O forever falling;
Infinite, the skeletal shells that fall, relinquished,
    The snowsoft sift of the diatoms, like selves   
Downdrifting age upon age through milky oceans;
    O slow downdrifting of the atoms;
O island nebulae and O the nebulous islands
    Wandering these mists like falsefires, which are true,   
Bobbing like milkweed, like warm lanterns bobbing
    Through the snowfilled windless air, blinking and passing   
As we pass into the memory of women
    Who are passing. Within those depths   
What ravening? What devouring rage?
    How shall our living know its ends of yielding?   
These things have taken me as the mouth an orange—
    That acrid sweet juice entering every cell;   
And I am shared out. I become these things:
    These lilies, if these things are water lilies   
Which are dancers growing dim across no floor;
    These mayflies; whirled dust orbiting in the sun;
This blossoming diffused as rushlights; galactic vapors;
    Fluorescence into which we pass and penetrate;   
O soft as the thighs of women;
    O radiance, into which I go on dying ...

W.D. Snodgrass, “Monet: ‘Les Nympheas’” from Selected Poems, 1957-1987 (New York: Soho Press, 1987). Copyright © 1987 by W.D. Snodgrass. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Selected Poems 1957-1987 (1987)

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Poet W. D. Snodgrass 1926–2009

SCHOOL / PERIOD Confessional

Subjects Men & Women, Trees & Flowers, Painting & Sculpture, Death, Living, Relationships, Nature, Arts & Sciences

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Ekphrasis, Confessional

 W. D. Snodgrass


W. D. Snodgrass is often credited with being one of the founding members of the "confessional" school of poetry, even though he dislikes the term confessional and does not regard his work as such. Nevertheless, his Pulitzer Prize-winning first collection, Heart's Needle, has had a tremendous impact on that particular facet of contemporary poetry. "Like other confessional poets, Snodgrass is at pains to reveal the repressed, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Men & Women, Trees & Flowers, Painting & Sculpture, Death, Living, Relationships, Nature, Arts & Sciences

SCHOOL / PERIOD Confessional

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Ekphrasis, Confessional

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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