Some Notes from Theodore Roethke


Inspired to look once again at Roethke by another blogger, I have selected some pieces from Straw for the Fire, a strange kind of selected bits from thousands of notebook pages. I have to say that while I may not agree with Mr. Roethke in all points, there is some interesting "straw for the fire" in these words.

from Straw for the Fire Theodore Roethke from "The Proverbs of Purgatory"

For him God was always there, like an ugly wife.
Those who almost see are most terrified.
The Devil is intuitive, not articulate.
Surround yourself with rising waters, the flood will teach you how to swim.
God does not like to be asked too violently to step in.
Despair and the most transcendental love of God are inseparable.
The angels ask but never answer.

from” Straw for the Fire"
I need to become learned in the literature of exasperation. In my worst state, once I think of my contemporaries, I'm immediately revived.
I'd like to be sure of something--even if it's just going to sleep.
God's the denial of denials,
Meister Eckhart said.
I like to forget denials
in bed.

And so forth. What Roethke is doing here is thinking and struggling with all sorts of things--his image of himself as poet, his idea of poetry, his idea of God. To read these fragments is to get a sense of struggle against "a sea of troubles/ and by opposing, end them." Roethke is one of the finest poets of the mid-century, a palliative to the endless whining and proto-bad-rap of the beats and their nauseating offspring. He is in line with Plath when she's not too introverted, and has produced some of the most memorable, and perhaps mystical poetry an American poet has to offer. I know vanishingly little of his personal life (always a boon), but sense from the poetry a constant, epic struggle against some form of mental illness--perhaps depression. I could be wrong here, but a line like , "In a dark time the eye begins to see," tends to cue one in to something going on.

Straw for the Fire is at times heartbreakingly beautiful. It is horrifying that this poet tosses away lines that are better than much of my entire work. But then I pause to reflect that these single lines are garnered from thousands and thousands of pages of the same kind of drift that I have in my notebooks. An unbiased observer might be able to go through and cull some gems from that mountain as well. I rather doubt that my work will generate such an unbiased observer--which is quite all right, because the world needs only one such collection to cause future poets some worry.

Bookmark and Share



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 16, 2002 8:00 AM.

An Acrostic for those too Irish for their Own Good was the previous entry in this blog.

Stealing Wholesale--A Prayer to Capture is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll