“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?