Monday, May 25, 2009


Today is the 101st birthday of poet Theodore Roethke, born May 25, 1908. Roethke's parents were greenhouse keepers in Saginaw, Michigan, and his early exposure to horticulture exerted a lasting influence on the young poet who returned repeatedly to glass-walled houses as a symbol for his interior world. He moved from Michigan to Harvard to Vermont before taking up a lengthy residence in Seattle as a teaching poet at the University of Washington. The move to Seattle in 1947 coincided with the award of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Poetry magazine's Levinson Prize, and grants from the Ford Foundation and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. His 1954 collection The Waking was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1954, and the 1957 collection Words for the Wind won the National Book Award. During the last years of his life he composed the sixty-one new poems that were published posthumously in The Far Field, which received yet another National Book Award.

Roethke's style ranged from highly structured existentialist themed poems in strict meter, to light musings on sex and drink, to free verse poems full of mystical and surrealistic imagery. At all times however, Roethke remained intensely aware and focused on the mystery, beauty, fierceness, and sensuality of the natural world.

Roethke died at the age of 61 while visiting friends on Bainbridge Island.


I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplicaton of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.

1 comment:

Little Rudy said...

have i mentioned lately that i love your blog? Where else can i go to find long gone poets who i don't know but should? (The library, you say? well yes, there are lots of them there too. But the personal introduction - that makes all the difference.)