A Mongoloid Child Handling Shells on the beach
by Richard Snider
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, 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 which 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 used 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 actions. Considering Snyder depicted the ocean as “.the margarine maze,” 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.”. I feel that this kind of symbolism is repeated throughout the remainder of the poem. The sea shells, for instance, are another important representation of her isolation. It reads in line three: ” broken bits from a margarine maze,”. If we look at the margarine 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”. 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 others. 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 girl’s life as it is, and perhaps how it will become.