"A Mongoliod Child Handling Shells On The Beach" Robert Snyder

Diction, Theme and Imagery in Richard Snyders Intro To Poetry
"A Mongoloid Child Handling Shells on the Beach"

When you first read Richard Snyders narrative poem, "A Mongoloid Child
Handling Shells on the Beach", it may be perceived that the poem is indeed about a child,
happily gathering shells upon the shore. However, if we closely consider the diction and
connotations that Synder uses, we can speculate that the meaning of the poem depicts a
deeper and darker theme. The title itself gives us an idea from the beginning. The word
Mongoloid, as identified in Websters New World Dictionary (675), is an early term for
Down\'s Syndrome, a state of mental retardation. Therefore I believe that the poem
represents the child as an outcast from the norm of society.
There are several words in the text that refer to the child that we usually wouldn\'t
associate with youth. An early clue would again be found in the title, "A Mongoloid Child
Handling Shells on the Beach". Notice that Snyder used the word "handling" instead of
playing or collecting, words wich we might think of while envisioning a young girl
investigating sea shells. Snyder also uses the word \'slow\' to describe the child on more
than one occasion, as we see in line one and line eight : "She turns them over in her slow
hands/ ...hums back to it its slow vowels." Yet another example could be in line four,
which reads: " they are the calmest things on this sand." Calm is yet another word that we
would not most likely use to portray a young child. It very well could be that the author is
trying to paint a picture of her impairment and symbolize her condition through her
Considering Snyder depicted the ocean as "..the mazarine maze,"(3) instead of
simply stating that it is the "deep blue sea", it is easy to speculate that the ocean represents
life itself. Her being outside of the water while all the other children are swimming is a key
example of her being isolated. The way that she is presented, which is slow and rather
solemn, contrasts with the other children who are "rough as surf, gay as their nesting
towels."(6). I feel that this kind of symbolism is repeated throughout the remainder of the
The sea shells, for instance, are another important representation of her isolation.
It reads in line three: " broken bits from a mazarine maze,". If we look at the mazarine
maze as being life, and the shells are broken bits of it washed ashore, it becomes clear that
the girl is swept out of the regular society, much as the shells were swept out of the sea. It
is even more comprehensible when we consider the line "The unbroken children splash and
shout,". What Snyder meant by "unbroken children" is that they are not broken off from
life, much like the child. They are not broken off of the sea, much like the shells.
The child and the shells seem to have a valuable bond in portraying the girls
solitude form society. This idea becomes even more graspable if we look at lines seven
and eight: "But she plays soberly with the sea\'s small change...". Websters New World
Dictionary defines the phrase small change as " petty or unimportant"(721). It may very
well be that the child is seen as less important by people of the society. She is the only one
who plays with the shells, perhaps the only one who can truly appreciate them. Perhaps it
is that the other children ignored the shells on the beach, and were tantalized by the water
instead, and maybe this is a foreshadow of her life-to-be, being ignored and pushed out by
It is unmistakable that this poem describes a child on the margin of society. Yet
even though she does not enjoy the beach as the other children do, I feel that she does not
resent them, but rather takes pleasure in the small and insignificant things, much like
herself. Snyder uses a cacophony of symbolic imagery and carefully chosen words to
convey a message about the girls life as it is, and perhaps how it will become.

Category: English