Theodore Roethke

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In reading elegies by David Wagoner this week we focused attention on the elegant Elegy While Pruning Roses that was published in the January 1979 issue of Poetry. 


Here are two poems from Roethke’s 1948 book The Lost Son and Other Poems that I mentioned, poems that are part of a group of thirteen lyrics often referred to as the “Greenhouse Poems”:





Sticks-in-a-drowse droop over sugary loam,
Their intricate stem-fur dries;
But still the delicate slips keep coaxing up water;
The small cells bulge;

One nub of growth
Nudges a sand-crumb loose,
Pokes through a musty sheath
Its pale tendrilous horn.


This urge, wrestle, resurrection of dry sticks,
Cut stems struggling to put down feet,
What saint strained so much,
Rose on such lopped limbs to a new life?
I can hear, underground, that sucking and sobbing,
In my veins, in my bones I feel it,—
The small waters seeping upward,
The tight grains parting at last.
When sprouts break out,
Slippery as fish,
I quail, lean to beginnings, sheath-wet.


We talked about Theodore Roethke. You can read more poems by Roethke at the Poetry Foundation. I also recommend the online resources at the Theodore Roethke Museum.

One of the most anthologized poems in American poetry, and perhaps the exemplary villanelle in the twentieth century, is The Waking. (There is a wonderful reading of the poem by Tom Moran that is part of the Favorite Poem Project.)

Wagoner edited Roethke’s notebooks that would eventually be published as Straw for the Fire.

And, finally, the late poems in The Far Field are just beautiful, in the collection that was recognized with the National Book Award in 1965. Read the arresting “North American Sequence” and “Sequence, Sometimes Metaphysical.”

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