‘Leaving the Motel‘ by W.D. Snodgrass is a reflective poem that explores themes of transience, impermanence, and the fleeting nature of human experiences. Through graphic imagery and symbolic language, the poem delves into the emotions and thoughts of a speaker who is departing from a motel. It evokes a sense of nostalgia, contemplation, and acceptance, emphasizing the need to let go of attachments and embrace the ever-changing nature of life.
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‘Leaving the Motel’ by W.D. Snodgrass is a poem that depicts the act of departing from a motel and the accompanying rituals and considerations.
The speaker focuses on the practical details that must be attended to before leaving. Outside, the sound of children playing near the pool emphasizes their intention to stay the night, while the speaker must gather the towels and discreetly fold their collars out of view.
The speaker emphasizes the need to ensure that the second bed remains undisturbed, adhering to the agreed arrangement. This highlights the foresight of the landlords, who must anticipate future guests’ needs. The importance of maintaining order is reiterated, emphasizing the significance of not mistakenly taking items such as matches or the wrong keyrings. The lack of a personal space to store mementos like ashtrays or combs is acknowledged.
The poem touches upon the possibility of others inadvertently discovering personal items, underscoring the need to leave nothing of each other’s belongings behind. However, the speaker suggests leaving behind only the license number, a minimal trace that the landlords would not bother to investigate. Despite having paid for their stay, the speaker hints at the possibility of these forgotten items feeling lonely, prompting the suggestion to leave an aspirin in the vase as a preservation measure for the lilacs—a symbol of the transient beauty they have collected and must now leave behind for a few more hours.
The concluding lines express the uncertainty of returning to the same motel, as circumstances and identities may change. The speaker acknowledges that they might have different rooms or even different names in the future, rendering any claims or attachments void.
In short, ‘Leaving the Motel’ captures the fleeting nature of temporary spaces and the need to meticulously tidy up, leaving only faint traces and accepting the transient nature of the journey ahead.
Structure and Form
‘Leaving the Motel’ by W.D. Snodgrass is structured as a quatrain poem consisting of seven stanzas with four lines each. The consistent four-line structure creates a sense of rhythm and balance throughout the poem. Each stanza encapsulates a specific aspect of the speaker’s departure from the motel, allowing for a clear organization of ideas. Each stanza utilizes a rhyme scheme of ABAB.
Regarding the rhyme scheme, there are instances of internal rhyming and assonance that contribute to the overall musicality of the poem. For example, in the first stanza, the words “collar” and “holler” share a similar vowel sound. This internal rhyme adds a subtle musical quality to the lines.
In addition to the internal rhyming, the poem also employs alliteration and consonance, creating a pleasing auditory effect. For instance, in the second stanza, the repetition of the “u” sound in “unrumpled” adds a rhythmic quality to the line.
The poem’s form and structure provide a sense of organization and coherence. The consistent quatrain structure allows for a concise exploration of the speaker’s thoughts and actions as they prepare to leave the motel.
In the poem ‘Leaving the Motel,’ W.D. Snodgrass addresses several themes, offering insight into the speaker’s contemplations and the transient nature of their experience.
One prominent theme is the transience of human existence and the impermanence of spaces. The poem captures the fleeting nature of staying in a motel, highlighting the speaker’s preparations to depart and the realization that they may never return. The emphasis on folding collars out of sight and leaving minimal traces reflects the temporary nature of their presence.
Another theme explored is the importance of order and tidiness. The speaker emphasizes the need to keep things straight and not take items that belong to others, ensuring that everything remains as it should. This theme reflects a sense of responsibility and respect for the motel space, as well as the desire to maintain a semblance of order in an otherwise transient environment.
The theme of detachment and letting go also emerges in the poem. The speaker acknowledges the necessity of leaving personal belongings behind and not forming attachments to the motel or its items. This theme is exemplified when the speaker suggests leaving an aspirin in the vase to preserve the lilacs, symbolizing a willingness to let go of the beauty they have collected.
Additionally, the theme of uncertainty and change is prevalent. The speaker recognizes that upon their hypothetical return, they may have different rooms or even different names. This theme reflects the ever-shifting nature of life and the acceptance that circumstances and identities can evolve over time.
Through these themes, Snodgrass offers a nuanced exploration of impermanence, order, detachment, and the inevitability of change, providing readers with insights into the transitory nature of human existence and the significance of making peace with constant flux.
Poetic Techniques and Figurative Language
In ‘Leaving the Motel,‘ W.D. Snodgrass employs various poetic techniques and figurative language to effectively convey his message.
- Imagery: One notable poetic technique utilized is imagery. Snodgrass paints vivid pictures through his descriptions, enabling readers to visualize the scene. For instance, the lines “Pick up the towels; fold your collar / Out of sight” create a visual image of tidying up and concealing one’s appearance.
- Symbolism: The poet also employs symbolism to add depth to the poem. The lilacs mentioned throughout the poem symbolize the fleeting beauty and transience of the speaker’s experience. Leaving an aspirin in the vase to preserve the lilacs serves as a metaphorical gesture of preserving the temporary joys that must be left behind.
- Alliteration: Snodgrass incorporates alliteration, the repetition of consonant sounds, to enhance the musicality of the poem. An example of this is seen in the line “We’ve paid. Still, should such things get lonely,” where the repetition of the “s” sound creates a soft and soothing effect.
- Rhetoric: The use of rhetorical questions adds a contemplative tone to the poem, engaging readers and prompting introspection. When the speaker asks, “We can’t tell when / We’ll come back, can’t press claims,” it invites readers to reflect on the uncertainty of life’s journey and the transient nature of our experiences.
- Enjambment, the continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line, is employed to create a flowing and uninterrupted rhythm. An example of this occurs in the line “We’ve gathered and must leave to serve,” where the thought flows seamlessly from one line to the next.
Through his skillful use of these literal devices, W.D. Snodgrass effectively conveys his message in “Leaving the Motel,” engaging readers and evoking emotions as they contemplate the themes of transience, order, detachment, and change.
Outside, the last kids holler
Near the pool: they’ll stay the night.
Pick up the towels; fold your collar
Out of sight.
In the first stanza of ‘Leaving the Motel,‘ W.D. Snodgrass conveys a sense of transience and the fleeting nature of the speaker’s experience. The stanza begins with the image of children playing outside, their hollering echoing in the air. This immediate sensory detail establishes a lively and energetic atmosphere, contrasting with the speaker’s impending departure.
The line “Near the pool: they’ll stay the night” introduces the concept of staying overnight, implying a sense of permanence and continuity. While the children are settling in for the night, the speaker is preparing to leave. This juxtaposition emphasizes the impermanence of the speaker’s presence and sets the tone for the rest of the poem.
The following lines, “Pick up the towels; fold your collar / Out of sight,” emphasize the need for tidiness and concealment. The act of picking up towels suggests the physical process of cleaning up and leaving the space as it was found. Folding the collar out of sight signifies a desire to hide one’s presence and leave behind minimal traces. This action underscores the transitory nature of the speaker’s stay and hints at a sense of detachment.
Snodgrass is trying to pass the message of impermanence and the need to accept the transient nature of our experiences. The presence of the children enjoying their night at the motel serves as a reminder that life continues beyond the speaker’s departure. The emphasis on tidying up and concealing one’s presence suggests a recognition of the ephemerality of the moment and the importance of leaving a minimal impact.
Check: is the second bed
In case of need,
In the second stanza of ‘Leaving the Motel,’ W.D. Snodgrass continues to explore the themes of order and transience while introducing the role of the landlords and their consideration for future guests.
The stanza begins with the directive to “Check: is the second bed / Unrumpled, as agreed?” This line conveys a sense of responsibility and adherence to an agreement, highlighting the importance of leaving the space in a pristine condition. The act of checking the bed suggests meticulous attention to detail and a desire to ensure that everything is in order before departing.
The following line, “Landlords have to think ahead,” introduces the landlords as individuals who anticipate the needs of future guests. This statement emphasizes their role in maintaining the motel’s operations and creating a welcoming environment for incoming visitors. It also suggests that the speaker should be considerate of the landlords’ responsibilities and leave the space in a suitable state for the next occupants.
The phrase “In case of need” further emphasizes the landlords’ foresight and preparedness. It implies that they must anticipate any requirements or requests from future guests and take appropriate action to fulfill them. This line reinforces the idea that the motel is a transient space, constantly accommodating new arrivals and attending to their needs.
Snodgrass intends to convey a message of responsibility, order, and the transient nature of our presence in shared spaces. It highlights the importance of considering the needs of others and leaving behind a clean and welcoming environment. The mention of the landlords’ foresight serves as a reminder that our temporary presence in such spaces is part of a larger cycle of guests coming and going.
Too. Keep things straight: don’t take
Ashtrays, combs, things
In the third stanza of ‘Leaving the Motel,’ W.D. Snodgrass delves into the theme of detachment and the speaker’s realization that they have no space to retain mementos or keepsakes from their stay.
The stanza begins with the phrase “Too. Keep things straight: don’t take,” which emphasizes the importance of maintaining order and not mistakenly taking items that do not belong to the speaker. This line suggests a sense of responsibility and respect for the belongings within the motel space, reinforcing the theme of tidiness and adherence to established rules.
The following line, “The matches, the wrong keyrings,” highlights specific objects that the speaker must resist the temptation to take. The mention of matches and keyrings represents small and easily pocketed items that could be inadvertently misplaced or taken. This further emphasizes the speaker’s need to be mindful and careful in their departure.
The line “We’ve nowhere we could keep a keepsake” reveals the speaker’s realization that there is no place for them to hold onto tokens or souvenirs from their stay. This conveys a sense of transience and detachment, underscoring the impermanence of their experience. The absence of a personal space to store keepsakes reflects the temporary nature of their presence in the motel.
The final line, “Ashtrays, combs, things,” encompasses a range of objects that the speaker must resist taking with them. These everyday items represent the mundanity of the motel experience and the realization that they hold no significant value beyond the momentary utility they provided.
Here, Snodgrass conveys a message of detachment and the ephemeral nature of our encounters. It emphasizes the need to resist attachment to material possessions and the recognition that the true value lies in the transient experiences and memories rather than the physical objects themselves.
That sooner or later others
And leave behind
In the fourth stanza of ‘Leaving the Motel,’ W.D. Snodgrass continues to explore the themes of detachment and the responsibility to leave the space as it was found. The stanza emphasizes the importance of not taking anything that belongs to others and the significance of leaving items behind.
The stanza begins with the phrase “That sooner or later others / Would accidentally find.” This line suggests that the items left behind by the speaker may be stumbled upon by future guests. It underscores the idea that the motel is a shared space, where belongings are transient and likely to be discovered by others. This recognition further reinforces the transience and impermanence of the speaker’s stay.
The next line, “Check: take nothing of one another’s,” highlights the importance of respecting the property of others. It implies that the speaker should be cautious and ensure that they do not inadvertently take something that belongs to another guest. This reinforces the theme of responsibility and consideration for others who may follow in their footsteps.
The final line, “And leave behind,” acts as a directive, urging the speaker to leave something behind as they depart. This emphasizes the significance of not only leaving the physical space intact but also leaving a trace of their presence for others to encounter. It signifies a sense of passing through, making a mark, and acknowledging the transient nature of our existence.
Snodgrass is essentially conveying a message of respect, responsibility, and the shared nature of our experiences in temporary spaces. It prompts readers to reflect on the importance of leaving a space as we found it and the significance of acknowledging and considering the presence of others who will come after us.
Your license number only,
Leave in their vase
In the fifth stanza of ‘Leaving the Motel,’ W.D. Snodgrass introduces the theme of loneliness and offers a poignant reflection on the significance of leaving a small token behind to alleviate the potential loneliness of the motel space.
The stanza begins with the directive to leave behind “Your license number only.” This line suggests a symbolic act of leaving behind one’s identification, a personal marker that signifies the presence of the speaker. The mention of the license number signifies an individual’s unique identity and presence, adding a personal touch to the transient space.
The following line, “Which they won’t care to trace,” suggests that the motel management or future guests may not be interested in investigating or tracing the origin of the license number. This implies a sense of anonymity and insignificance, emphasizing the speaker’s understanding that their presence will likely go unnoticed or unremarked upon.
The next line, “We’ve paid,” reaffirms the speaker’s recognition that their financial obligations to the motel have been fulfilled. It further underscores the transient nature of their stay and implies that they have no further obligations or claims to the space.
The line “Still, should such things get lonely” introduces the theme of loneliness, suggesting that the motel space may feel desolate or empty without the presence of occupants. This line evokes a sense of empathy and understanding for the potential loneliness of the space.
The final line, “Leave in their vase,” presents a poignant resolution to the theme of loneliness. By suggesting leaving something in the vase, the speaker offers a small gesture to mitigate the potential loneliness of the space. This act symbolizes leaving a part of themselves behind, perhaps an aspirin, as mentioned in a previous stanza, to provide companionship or comfort in their absence.
Here, Snodgrass conveys a message of empathy, recognition of one’s insignificance in the grand scheme of things, and the desire to leave a trace of one’s presence to alleviate potential loneliness. It prompts readers to consider the impact of their presence and the small acts of kindness that can make a difference in transient spaces.
An aspirin to preserve
A few more hours;
In the sixth stanza of “Leaving the Motel,” W.D. Snodgrass continues to explore themes of transience and the preservation of memories through the metaphor of lilacs, emphasizing the ephemeral nature of our experiences and the need to leave a lasting impact in a limited time.
The stanza begins with the image of an aspirin, symbolizing a small, simple object that can serve as a preservative. The phrase “An aspirin to preserve” suggests the speaker’s desire to preserve their memories and experiences during their stay in the motel. It implies that the speaker wishes to hold onto the fleeting moments and extend their significance beyond the limited time they have.
The next line, “Our lilacs, the wayside flowers,” introduces the metaphor of lilacs, representing the transient beauty and fragility of the wayside flowers. Lilacs are known for their short blooming period, emphasizing the temporary nature of their existence. By comparing the lilacs to the speaker’s experiences, Snodgrass highlights the ephemeral and fragile nature of the moments they have gathered during their stay.
The line “We’ve gathered and must leave to serve / A few more hours” reflects the speaker’s recognition that they must leave the lilacs behind to continue serving their purpose for a short while longer. This suggests that the memories and experiences associated with the motel stay will linger, even after the physical presence of the speaker has departed.
Snodgrass makes use of this stanza to convey a message of cherishing fleeting moments and acknowledging the limited time we have to make an impact. The use of lilacs as a metaphor underscores the beauty and impermanence of our experiences, urging us to appreciate and preserve them in memory.
That’s all. We can’t tell when
Or other names.
In the seventh and final stanza of “Leaving the Motel,” W.D. Snodgrass concludes the poem by delving into the themes of uncertainty, impermanence, and the inevitability of change. The stanza emphasizes the transitory nature of our existence and the acceptance that we cannot hold onto or reclaim the same experiences.
The stanza begins with the statement, “That’s all,” signaling the end of the speaker’s reflection and the conclusion of their stay in the motel. This phrase signifies finality and acceptance of the present moment, acknowledging that their time in the motel has come to an end.
The next line, “We can’t tell when / We’ll come back,” expresses uncertainty about the future. It highlights the unpredictability of life and suggests that the speaker cannot determine when or if they will return to the motel. This line underscores the theme of transience and the recognition that our experiences and encounters are subject to change.
The line “Can’t press claims” suggests that the speaker cannot assert ownership or make demands regarding their previous stay in the motel. It implies a relinquishment of any entitlement or attachment to the past, further emphasizing the impermanence of their presence.
The final two lines, “We would no doubt have other rooms then, / Or other names,” capture the essence of the stanza and the poem as a whole. These lines convey the inevitability of change and transformation. The mention of other rooms and other names signifies the continuous cycle of movement and adaptation in our lives. It implies that our experiences will evolve, and we will assume different identities as we navigate through different stages and spaces.
The poet conveys a message of acceptance, embracing the uncertainty of the future, and recognizing the ever-changing nature of our existence. It prompts readers to reflect on the impermanence of our experiences and the need to embrace the present moment, knowing that change is inevitable.
Overall, this stanza serves as a conclusion to the poem, summarizing the themes of transience, uncertainty, and acceptance. It encourages readers to let go of attachments to the past, embrace the fluidity of life, and be open to the possibilities that lie ahead.
The poem is titled ‘Leaving the Motel‘ because it explores the experience of departing from a temporary space, highlighting themes of transience, impermanence, and the need to let go of attachments.
The speaker in ‘Leaving the Motel’ is a transient individual who has stayed in the motel but is now departing, leaving behind their temporary presence and belongings.
The mood of ‘Leaving the Motel’ is bittersweet and reflective. It conveys a sense of nostalgia for the moments and experiences left behind, coupled with an acceptance of the transient nature of life and the need to move on. There is a tinge of melancholy as the poem explores the emotions associated with departure and the passing of time.
If you enjoyed this poem by W. D. Snodgrass, you might also explore the following other poems:
- ‘A Poison Tree’ by William Blake forces you to look deep down inside your own self. It makes you ask a question to yourself – you often forgive your friends; would you ever forgive an enemy?
- ‘A Thunderstorm In Town’ by Thomas Hardy presents two contrasting scenes: the dry interior of a carriage and the havoc of a thunderstorm outside. But the powerful imagery and symbolism mainly illustrate a memory of lovelorn regret by the speaker.
- ‘A False Step’ written by Elizabeth Barret Browning explores how a woman regrets her heartless action taken during her youth.