“The snowsoft sift of the diatoms”: W. D. Snodgrass’s “Monet: Les Nymphéas'”

Close upOver the Thanksgiving holiday, we traveled to Cleveland to visit my family, and while we were there, we were lucky enough to see (thanks to my parents), a wonderful exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art called “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse,” which explores the way the garden has influenced and appeared in art.

The showstopper of the exhibit is a very large (three panels brought together from three different museums) Monet painting of water lilies (the left panel is owned by the CMA; here’s a link). I’m used to seeing Monet’s  water lily paintings (he made over 200) on notecards and fridge magnets and postcards, but to see one on such a grand scale was thrilling. I couldn’t stop smiling, actually.

Here’s a W. D. Snodgrass poem, “Monet: ‘Les Nymphéas'” about Monet’s water lilies (les nymphéas in French) that in language evokes the dreamy quality of the paintings. I love the sounds of this poem, like these lines:

The snowsoft sift of the diatoms, like selves
Downdrifting age upon age through milky oceans;
    O slow downdrifting of the atoms;

Swoon. Have I ever mentioned that ‘o’ is my favorite letter? Some of the reason why is in this poem.

Also, is it just me, or is there something vaguely Miltonic about the images and the play with language here?

Readers, what’s your favorite ekphrastic poem? Also, seen any art lately?

3 thoughts on ““The snowsoft sift of the diatoms”: W. D. Snodgrass’s “Monet: Les Nymphéas'”

  1. 1. Most of the art I see around here is local. Which is okay by me, but sometime I would love to go to a bigger gallery that includes a wider variety of art.
    2. I have always thought Snodgrass is an unfortunate name.
    3. If I have to look up the word ekphrastic then I probably won’t be able to answer your question. But, now I know a new word.
    4. I thought maybe I was the only one who had favourite letters. Mine is ‘a’, but I couldn’t tell you why. I have just always liked the way it looks.

  2. Lovely poem. I understand from friends in Cleveland that the exhibit is wonderful — congratulations to the Cleveland Museum of Art!

  3. Ah! I can’t wait to go see that over Christmas. (I realize that it sounds weird that I live in France and want to go see an exhibit in Ohio but it looks so good.)

    I spend a lot of time looking at art right now (one of my favorite perks of living here), and on Sunday I’m hoping to go see a show in Paris called “Splendour and Misery. Pictures of Prostitution, 1850-1910” that’s on at the Musee d’Orsay right now.

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