Theodore Roethke Essay

1098 words - 4 pages

Theodore Roethke

“Roethke was a great poet, the successor to Frost and Stevens in modern American poetry, and it is the measure of his greatness that his work repays detailed examination” (Parini 1). Theodore Roethke was a romantic who wrote in a variety of styles throughout his long successful career. However, it was not the form of his verse that was important, but the message being delivered and the overall theme of the work. Roethke was a deep thinker and often pondered about and reflected on his life. This introspection was the topic of much of his poetry. His analysis of his self and his emotional experiences are often expressed in his verse. According to Ralph J. Mills Jr., “this self interest was the primary matter of artistic exploration and knowledge, an interest which endows the poems with a sense of personal urgency, even necessity” (Contemporary Authors 476).

Roethke was born in 1908 in Saginaw, Michigan to Otto Roethke and Helen Huebner. He demonstrated early promise in a Red Cross campaign speech as a high school freshman. This speech was translated into twenty-six different languages and showed that he had talent and potential even at a young age. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Michigan in 1929, and was pressured to move on to law school by family members. However, he was not interested in law and dropped out in order to take graduate courses in literature at Harvard University. Allan Seager concluded, “it was more than an unsuppressible awareness of life that led him to choose poetry as a career” (Contemporary Authors 475). He took up various teaching positions afterwards at colleges including Lafayette College, Pennsylvania State University, Bennington College, and finally Washington University, where he was professor of English from 1948 until his death. Roethke had practical goals for his students, which is shown in his statement “A bright student can be taught to write cleanly; he can learn – and this is most important – much about himself and his own time” (Contemporary Authors 476). Roethke married Beatrice O’Connell, a former student at Bennington College, in 1953. Roethke published many volumes of poetry throughout his career. His first volume, Open House, published in 1941, was filled with images of growth and decay and had short unrhymed verses (Encarta). According to Allan Seager, “most of the reviews were good and those that contained adverse criticisms tacitly acknowledged that it was the work of a genuine poet and not a beginner” (Contemporary Authors 476). His next two volumes, The Lost Son and Other Poems (1948) and Praise to the End! (1951) were expressions of his explorations of his interior self. After reading The Lost Son and Other Poems, Richard Blessing claimed “To my mind, the transformation of Theodore Roethke from a poet of lyric resourcefulness, technical proficiency, and ordered sensibility to a poet of indomitable creativeness and audacity, difficult,...

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