W.D. Snodgrass --American


W.D. Snodgrass
(1926-    )


William De Witt Snodgrass was born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1926. Snodgrass served in the U.S. Navy, and following the war earned his M.F.A.  His first book of poetry, Heart’s Needled, published in 1959 was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.  He is credited with being one of the founders of the “Confessional Movement” of poetry.  Snodgrass has published a number of books of poetry, most notable being: 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).

Magda Goebbels

(After Dr. Haase gave them shots of morphine,

Magda gave each child an ampule of potassium

cyanide from a spoon.)


This is the needle that we give

Soldiers and children when they live

Near the front in primitive

    Conditions or real dangers;

This is the spoon we use to feed

Men trapped in trouble or in need,

When weakness or bad luck might lead

    Them to the hands of strangers.


This is the room where you can sleep

Your sleep out, curled up under deep

Layers of covering that will keep

    You safe till all harm’s past.

This is the bed where you can rest

In perfect silence, undistressed

By noise or nightmares, as my breast

    Once held you soft but fast.


This is the Doctor who has brought

Your needle with your special shot

To quiet you; you won’t get caught

    Off guard or unprepared.

I am your nurse who’ll comfort you;

I nursed you, fed you till you grew

Too big to feed; now you’re all through

    Fretting or feeling scared.


This is the glass tube that contains

Calm that will spread down through your veins

To free you finally from all pains

    Of going on in error.

This tiny pinprick sets the germ

Inside you that fills out its term

Till you can feel yourself grow firm

    Against all doubt, all terror.


Into this spoon I break the pill

That stiffens the unsteady will

And hardens you against the chill

    Voice of a world of lies.


This amber medicine implants

Steadfastness in your blood; this grants

Immunity from greed and chance,

    And from all compromise.


This is the serum that can cure

Weak hearts; these pure, clear drops insure

You’ll face what comes and can endure

    The test; you’ll never falter.

This is the potion that preserves

You in a faith that never swerves;

This sets the pattern of your nerves

    Too firm for you to alter.


I set this spoon between your tight

Teeth, as I gave you your first bite;

This satisfies your appetite

    For other nourishment.

Take this on your tongue; this do

Remembering your mother who

So loved her Leader she stayed true

    When all the others went,


When every friend proved false, in the

Delirium of treachery

On every hand, when even He

    Had turned His face aside.

He shut himself in with His whore;

Then, though I screamed outside His door,

Said He’d not see me anymore.

    They both took cyanide.


Open wide, now, little bird;

I who sang you your first word

Soothe away every sound you’ve heard

    Except your Leader’s voice.

Close your eyes, now; take your death.

Once we slapped you to take breath.

Vengeance is mine, the Lord God saith

    And cancels each last choice.

Once, my first words marked out your mind;

Just as our Leader’s phrases bind

All hearts to Him, building a blind

    Loyalty through the nation,

We shape you into a pure form.

Trapped, our best soldiers tricked the storm,

The Reds: those last hours, they felt warm

    Who stood fast to their station.


You needn’t fear what your life meant;

You won’t curse how your hours were spent;

You’ll grow like your own monument

    To all things sure and good,

Fixed like a frieze in high relief

Of granite figures that our Chief

Accepts into His true belief,

    His true blood-brotherhood.


You’ll never bite the hand that fed you,

Won’t turn away from those that bred you,

Comforted your nights and led you

    Into the thought of virtue;

You won’t be turned from your own bed;

Won’t turn into that thing you dread;

No new betrayal lies ahead;

    Now no one else can hurt you.