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About this poet

On May 25, 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)

Pickle Belt

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 itches
Of sixteen-year-old lust.

From The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, published by Doubleday and Company. Copyright © 1932, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1961 Theodore Roethke. Used with permission.

From The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, published by Doubleday and Company. Copyright © 1932, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1961 Theodore Roethke. Used with permission.

Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke, born in in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1908, received the Pulizter Prize in 1954 for The Waking.

by this poet

poem

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you

poem

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

2
poem

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.