Theodore Huebner Roethke was born in Saginaw, Michigan, the son of Otto Roethke and Helen Huebner, who, along with an uncle owned a local greenhouse. As a child, he spent much time in the greenhouse observing nature. Roethke grew up in Saginaw, attending Aurthur Hill High School, where he gave a speech on the Junior Red Cross that was published in twenty six different languages. In 1923 his father died of cancer, an event that would forever shape his creative and artistic outlooks. From 1925 to 1929 Roethke attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, graduating magna cum laude. Despite his family’s wish that he pursue a legal career, he quit law school after one semester. From there ... more »
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Theodore Roethke Poems
My Papa's Waltz
The whiskey on your breath Could make a small boy dizzy; But I hung on like death: Such waltzing was not easy.
I Knew a Woman
I knew a woman, lovely in her bones, When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them; Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one: The shapes a bright container can contain!
In A Dark Time
In a dark time, the eye begins to see, I meet my shadow in the deepening shade; I hear my echo in the echoing wood-- A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
Elegy For Jane
(My student, thrown by a horse) I remember the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils; And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel smile;
Child on Top of a Greenhouse
The wind billowing out the seat of my britches, My feet crackling splinters of glass and dried putty, The half-grown chrysanthemums staring up like accusers, Up through the streaked glass, flashing with sunlight,
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,
Now as the train bears west, Its rhythm rocks the earth, And from my Pullman berth I stare into the night
The Meadow Mouse
1 In a shoe box stuffed in an old nylon stocking Sleeps the baby mouse I found in the meadow,
I think the dead are tender. Shall we kiss? -- My lady laughs, delighting in what is. If she but sighs, a bird puts out its tongue. She makes space lonely with a lovely song.
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?
The Far Field
I I dream of journeys repeatedly: Of flying like a bat deep into a narrowing tunnel
By day the bat is cousin to the mouse. He likes the attic of an aging house. His fingers make a hat about his head.
Journey Into The Interior
In the long journey out of the self, There are many detours, washed-out interrupted raw places Where the shale slides dangerously And the back wheels hang almost over the edge
I saw a young snake glide Out of the mottled shade And hang, limp on a stone: A thin mouth, and a tongue
(4 April 1928 - 28 May 2014)
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My Papa's Waltz
The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.
We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.
The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.
You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.