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About this poet

On May 5, 1908, Theodore Roethke was born in Saginaw, Michigan. As a child, he spent much time in the greenhouse owned by his father and uncle. His impressions of the natural world contained there would later profoundly influence the subjects and imagery of his verse. Roethke graduated magna cum laude from the University of Michigan in 1929. He later took a few graduate classes at Michigan and Harvard, but was unhappy in school. His first book, Open House (1941), took ten years to write and was critically acclaimed upon its publication. He went on to publish sparingly but his reputation grew with each new collection, including The Waking which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1954.

He admired the writing of such poets as Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Blake, and Wordsworth, as well as Yeats and Dylan Thomas. Stylistically his work ranged from witty poems in strict meter and regular stanzas to free verse poems full of mystical and surrealistic imagery. At all times, however, the natural world in all its mystery, beauty, fierceness, and sensuality, is close by, and the poems are possessed of an intense lyricism. Roethke had close literary friendships with fellow poets W. H. Auden, Louise Bogan, Stanley Kunitz, and William Carlos Williams. He taught at various colleges and universities, including Lafayette, Pennsylvania State, and Bennington, and worked last at the University of Washington, where he was mentor to a generation of Northwest poets that included David Wagoner, Carolyn Kizer, and Richard Hugo. Theodore Roethke died on August 1, 1963.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Collected Poems (1966)
I Am! Says the Lamb (1961)
Open House (1941)
Party at the Zoo (1963)
Praise to the End! (1951)
Sequence, Sometimes Metaphysical (1964)
The Far Field (1964)
The Lost Son (1948)
The Waking: Poems 1933-1953 (1953)
Words for the Wind: The Collected Verse (1958)

Prose

On the Poet and His Craft: Selected Prose (1966)
Selected Letters (1968)
Straw for the Fire: From the Notebooks of TR, 1943-1963 (1972)

I Am! Said the Lamb [excerpt]

Theodore Roethke, 1908 - 1963

The Donkey

I had a Donkey, that was all right,
But he always wanted to fly my Kite;
Every time I let him, the String would bust.
Your Donkey is better behaved, I trust.

The Ceiling

Suppose the Ceiling went Outside
And then caught Cold and Up and Died?
The only Thing we'd have for Proof
That he was Gone, would be the Roof;
I think it would be Most Revealing
To find out how the Ceiling's Feeling.

The Chair

A funny thing about a Chair:
You hardly ever think it's there.
To know a Chair is really it,
You sometimes have to go and sit.

The Hippo

A Head or Tail—which does he lack?
I think his Forward's coming back!
He lives on Carrots, Leeks and Hay;
He starts to yawn—it takes All Day—

Some time I think I'll live that way.

The Lizard

The Time to Tickle a Lizard,
Is Before, or Right After, a Blizzard.
Now the place to begin
Is just under his Chin,—
And here's more Advice:
Don't Poke more than Twice
At an Intimate Place like his Gizzard.

"The Donkey", copyright © 1961 by Theodore Roethke. "The Ceiling", © 1950 by Theodore Roethke. "The Chair", copyright © 1950 by Theodore Roethke. "The Hippo", copyright © 1961 by Theodore Roethke. "The Lizard", copyright © 1961 by Theodore Roethke. From The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke by Theodore Roethke. Used by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. For online information about other Random House, Inc. books and authors, see the Internet website at http://www.randomhouse.com

Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke was born in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1908. As a child,

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1

Against the stone breakwater,
Only an ominous lapping,
While the wind whines overhead,
Coming down from the mountain,
Whistling between the arbors, the winding terraces;
A thin whine of wires, a rattling and flapping of leaves,
And the small street-lamp swinging and slamming against
	the lamp pole.
poem
The fruit rolled by all day.
They prayed the cogs would creep;
They thought about Saturday pay,
And Sunday sleep.

Whatever he smelled was good:
The fruit and flesh smells mixed.
There beside him she stood,--
And he, perplexed;

He, in his shrunken britches,
Eyes rimmed with pickle dust,
Prickling with all the