Saturday, January 25, 2014

Analysis of "Flat-Spired Three-Toothed Snail" by William Kelley Woolfitt

Original poem reprinted online here:  "Flat-Spired Three-Toothed Snail" by William Kelley Woolfitt
Originally read: July 17, 2013
More information about the Poet: William Kelley Woolfitt



Here's the picture of the "Flat-Spired Three-Toothed Snail"


WIkipedia Article about the Flat-Spired Three-Toothed Snail


Why do I give this much information about the animal.  Because the animal indicates place -- West Virginia, the Appalachia trial.And, with regards to this poem, place and setting seem to be the central idea.

Written in five sestets, the poem starts out with sayings describing the setting, "Dog days, shut sky, zero rain, / wood-sorrel and lamb's tongue / smell like hot pennies"  Here the speaker sets up a hot day, time frame unknown, but the language, the continuous usage of idioms, appeal to the visual and the olfactory.  The simile here is interesting because how tangential the other half is, but is a reader can still relate.

"copper scorch.  Tiny blazes almost / kindle in the leaf litter, almost / gives off sputters of smoke.  Past me noted "almost" as "goes with speaker's imagination of wanting something to happen."  I think past me's thoughts are a little too far ahead, but  I do agree the stanza hinges on the word "almost" based off repetition and action.  Almost kindles, almost give off sputters of smoke.  There's a sense of urgency there.

Yet, the speaker focuses, in the second stanza, on the snail.  The setting is set up, "Three-tooth struggles, sheds / his faith in the surety of rain -- / for he has senses warnings."  Here the key word that stands out is "faith" because the word reasons why the three tooth "sheds"  and precipitates the reasons for "warnings."

"in his four horns (which serve / as his noses, also his eyes), / has felt in his soft parts"  Here's a pretty interesting technique at play.  Note how the beginning stanza is mostly visual and olfactory -- here the speaker describes the snail with these sense, but also writes to appeal to these senses.  Does that mean the reader and the snail have similar qualities.  Perhaps.  But there's a sense of empathy being placed here.

     pangs of dryness,
     the pestilence that mortifies flesh.
     He slips into the upheaved rock
     basilica of gritstone, its aperture
     scarcely bigger than his own
     He passes through the vestry

This stanza changes the context of the poem completely.  From a "nature" driven poem to a poem that is focused on the word" faith."  Basillica, roman church building, and vestry, changing room for a church, are the words that stand out, but also note the change in diction, "pestilence that mortifies flesh."  It is at this point where the speaker tries to add more meaning to the subject rather than just observing the subject.

     descends to the fissure-nave,
     its font of moisture a sign to him
     something like the unbidden tears
     of our own carved saints,

Cognizance.  Not only to the surroundings, but what the snail searches for.  This is pretty high metaphor at this point, but the simile buffers an overly divine reading.  A little absurd (in the existential Waiting for Godot sense), yes.  Moisture is the equivalent of unbidden tears of our own carved saints.  The speaker is placing importance of a snails action.  The appeal for me at this point is how far will the speaker go?

     [...] rivulet
     of life flowing from stone.  Didn't
     the poet say to drink whatever juices

     we can squeeze from the earth?

The assumption for me is that the divine and the poet are one.  The observer, interpreter, and poet come out and take over the lines here.  The snail now becomes more of a symbol as the speaker comes to the forefront with the rhetoric.  The rhetorical question though seems to chastise something.  Perhaps the snail, perhaps the surrounding, perhaps the poet.  But the question, without concrete context, could apply to any subject, symbol or item.

"Thee tooth secretes his shell, shapes / its apex and spire-whorls, patched the temple that houses him," so the connection here is that the shell is like a temple.  And in disregarding it the "consequence" is "mixes his mortar from calcium / in the dark soil that he eats."  Is the recreations of the shell but this time with "dark soil"  A difference of approach?  Or the same material that grows back?  Past me wrote, "The fusion of images to hunker down -- there is no change in weather, self, journey, escape."

I think differently now.  I do sense a strong shift and power behind the last three stanzas toward religion, but the couplet feels undirected, but it appeals to me to interpret the poem in either/or rather than a fusion of both.

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