Last modified on 15 April 2014, at 13:29

Theodore Roethke

What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Huebner Roethke (IPA: ['ɹ ɛ t.ki]; RET-key) (25 May 19081 August 1963) was an American poet who published several volumes of poetry characterized by their rhythm and natural imagery. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1954 for his book, The Waking.

QuotesEdit

Open House (1941)Edit

My secrets cry aloud.
I have no need for tongue.
  • My secrets cry aloud.
    I have no need for tongue.

    My heart keeps open house,
    My doors are widely swung.
    An epic of the eyes
    My love, with no disguise.
    • "Open House," ll. 1-6


  • My truths are all foreknown,
    This anguish self-revealed.
    I’m naked to the bone,
    With nakedness my shield.
    • "Open House," ll. 7 - 11


And soon a branch, part of a hidden scene,
The leafy mind, that long was tightly furled,
Will turn its private substance into green,
And young shoots spread upon our inner world.
  • The light comes brighter from the east; the caw
    Of restive crows is sharper on the ear.
    • "The Light Comes Brighter," ll. 1-2


  • And soon a branch, part of a hidden scene,
    The leafy mind, that long was tightly furled,
    Will turn its private substance into green,
    And young shoots spread upon our inner world.
    • "The Light Comes Brighter," ll. 17-20


  • He loops in crazy figures half the night
    Among the trees that face the corner light.
    But when he brushes up against a screen,
    We are afraid of what our eyes have seen:
    For something is amiss or out of place
    When mice with wings can wear a human face.
    • "The Bat," ll. 5-10

The Lost Son and Other Poems (1948)Edit

I always felt mean, jogging back over the logging road,
As if I had broken the natural order of things in that swampland;
Disturbed some rhythm, old and of vast importance...
  • 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?
    • "Cuttings (later)," ll. 1-4


  • Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch
    • "Root Cellar," l. 1


  • Nothing would give up life:
    Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.
    • "Root Cellar," ll. 10-11


  • I always felt mean, jogging back over the logging road,
    As if I had broken the natural order of things in that swampland;
    Disturbed some rhythm, old and of vast importance,
    By pulling off flesh from the living planet;
    As if I had committed, against the whole scheme of life, a desecration.
    • "Moss-Gathering," ll. 9-13
They teased out the seed that the cold kept asleep, —
All the coils, loops and whorls...
  • Like witches they flew along rows,
    Keeping creation at ease
    ;
    With a tendril for needle
    They sewed up the air with a stem;
    They teased out the seed that the cold kept asleep, —
    All the coils, loops and whorls.
    They trellised the sun; they plotted for more than themselves.
    • "Frau Bauman, Frau Schmidt, and Frau Schwartze," ll. 19-25


  • The whiskey on your breath
    Could make a small boy dizzy;
    But I hung on like death:
    Such waltzing was not easy.
    • "My Papa's Waltz," ll. 1-4


  • Over the gulfs of dream
    Flew a tremendous bird

    Further and further away
    Into a moonless black,
    Deep in the brain, far back.
    • "Night Crow," ll. 4-8


  • I study the lives on a leaf: the little
    Sleepers, numb nudgers in cold dimensions.
    • "The Minimal," ll. 1-2


Snail, snail, glister me forward,
Bird, soft-sigh me home,
Worm, be with me.
This is my hard time.
  • At Woodlawn I Heard the dead cry:
    I was lulled by the slamming of iron,
    A slow drip over stones,
    Toads brooding wells.
    • The Lost Son, ll. 1-4


  • I shook the softening chalk of my bones,
    Saying,
    Snail, snail, glister me forward,
    Bird, soft-sigh me home,
    Worm, be with me.
    This is my hard time.
    • "The Lost Son," ll. 8-11


Voice, come out of the silence.
Say something
  • Voice, come out of the silence.
    Say something.

    Appear in the form of a spider
    Or a moth beating the curtain.

    Tell me:
    Which is the way I take;
    Out of what door do I go,
    Where and to whom?

    • The Lost Son, ll. 24 - 29


  • The salt said, look by the sea,
    Your tears are not enough praise,
    You will find no comfort here,
    In the kingdom of bang and blab.
    • The Lost Son, ll. 32 - 35


  • Who stunned the dirt into noise?
    Ask the mole, he knows.

    I feel the slime of a wet nest.
    Beware Mother Mildew.
    Nibble again, fish nerves.
    • "The Lost Son," ll. 66-70


  • Goodbye, goodbye, old stones, the time-order is going,
    I have married my hands to perpetual agitation,
    I run, I run to the whistle of money.
Money money money
Water water water.
  • "The Lost Son," ll. 107-111


A lively understandable spirit
Once entertained you.
It will come again.
  • The mind moved, not alone,
    Through the clear air, in the silence.
Was it light?
Was it light within?
Was it light within light?
Stillness becoming alive,
Yet still?
  • The Lost Son, ll. 161 - 167


  • A lively understandable spirit
    Once entertained you.
    It will come again.
    Be still.
    Wait.
    • The Lost Son," ll. 168-172


  • I saw the separateness of all things!
    My heart lifted up with the great grasses;
    The weeds believed me, and the nesting birds.
    • "A Field of Light," ll. 45-47


Death was not. I lived in a simple drowse...
  • The wind sharpened itself on a rock;
    A voice sang
    :
Pleasure on ground
Has no sound,
Easily maddens
The uneasy man.
  • "The Shape of the Fire," ll. 40 - 45


  • Mother of quartz, your words writhe into my ear.
    Renew the light, lewd whisper.
    • "The Shape of the Fire," ll. 54 - 55


  • The wasp waits.
    The edge cannot eat the center.
    The grape listens.
    The path tells little to the serpent.
    An eye comes out of the wave.
    The journey from flesh is longest.
    A rose sways least.
    The redeemer comes a dark way.
    • "The Shape of the Fire," ll. 56-63


  • Death was not. I lived in a simple drowse:
    Hands and hair moved through a dream of wakening blossoms.

    Rain sweetened the cave and the dove still called;
    The flowers leaned on themselves, the flowers in hollows;
    And love, love sang toward.
    • "The Shape of the Fire," ll. 73-77


  • To stare into the after-light, the glitter left on the lake's surface,
    When the sun has fallen behind a wooded island;
    To follow the drips sliding from a lifted oar
    Held up, while the rower breathes, and the small boat drifts quietly shoreward;
    To know that light falls and fills, often without our knowing.
    • The Shape of the Fire," ll. 88-92


Praise to the End! (1951)Edit

Bless me and the maze I'm in!
Hello, thingy spirit.
  • I'll seek my own meekness.
    What grace I have is enough.

    The lost have their own pace.
    The stalks ask something else.
    What the grave says,
    The nest denies.
    • "Unfold! Unfold!," ll. 59-64


  • Bless me and the maze I'm in!
    Hello, thingy spirit.
    • "I Cry, Love! Love!," ll. 20-21


  • Beginnings start without shade,
    Thinner than minnows.
    The live grass whirls with the sun,
    Feet run over the simple stones,
    There's time enough.
    Behold, in the lout's eye, love.
    • "I Cry, Love! Love!," ll. 33-39


The Waking (1953)Edit

All lovers live by longing, and endure:
Summon a vision and declare it pure.
  • I take this cadence from a man named Yeats:
    I take it and I give it back again:
    For other tunes and other wanton beats
    Have tossed my heart and fiddled through my brain.
    Yes, I was dancing mad, and how
    That came to be the bears and Yeats would know.


  • Dante attained the purgatorial hill,
    Trembled at hidden virtue without flaw,
    Shook with a mighty power beyond his will, —
    Did Beatrice deny what Dante saw?
    All lovers live by longing, and endure:
    Summon a vision and declare it pure.
    • "Four for Sir John Davies," ll. 73-78


The WakingEdit

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.
  • 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.
  • Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
    The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
    I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
  • Great Nature has another thing to do
    To you and me; so take the lively air,
    And, lovely, learn by going where to go.
  • This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
    What falls away is always. And is near.
    I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
    I learn by going where I have to go.

Words for the Wind (1958)Edit

Who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways.)
  • 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!
    • "I Knew a Woman," ll. 1 - 4


I know the motion of the deepest stone.
Each one's himself, yet each one's everyone.
  • Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:
    I'm martyr to a motion not my own;
    What's freedom for? To know eternity.

    I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
    But who would count eternity in days?
    These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
    (I measure time by how a body sways.)
    • "I Knew a Woman," ll. 22-28


  • Is pain a promise? I was schooled in pain,
    And found out what I could of all desire;
    I weep for what I'm like when I'm alone
    In the deep center of the voice and fire.

    I know the motion of the deepest stone.
    Each one's himself, yet each one's everyone.

    • "The Sententious Man," ll. 31-36


I lived with deep roots once:
Have I forgotten their ways —
The gradual embrace
Of lichen around stones?
  • The night wind rises. Does my father live?
    Dark hangs upon the waters of the soul.
    My flesh is breathing slower than a wall.
    Love alters all. Unblood my instinct, love.
    • "The Renewal," ll. 7-10


  • I lived with deep roots once:
    Have I forgotten their ways —
    The gradual embrace
    Of lichen around stones?
    • "Plaint," ll. 13-16


Sing of that nothing of which all is made,
Or listen into silence, like a god.
  • The moon draws back its waters from the shore.
    By the lake's edge, I see a silver swan,
    And she is what I would. In this light air,
    Lost opposites bend down —
    Sing of that nothing of which all is made,
    Or listen into silence, like a god.
    • "The Swan," ll. 15-20


What's left is light as a seed;
I need an old crone's knowing.
  • How can I rest in the days of my slowness?
    I've become a strange piece of flesh,
    Nervous and cold, bird-furtive, whiskery,
    With a cheek soft as a hound's ear.
    What's left is light as a seed;
    I need an old crone's knowing.
    • "Meditations of an Old Woman: First Meditation," ll. 15-21


  • I have gone into the waste lonely places
    Behind the eye.
    • "Meditations of an Old Woman: First Meditation," ll. 76-77


The Far Field (1964)Edit

Being, not doing, is my first joy.
  • Too much reality can be a dazzle, a surfeit;
    Too close immediacy an exhaustion
    • "The Abyss"


  • A terrible violence of creation,
    A flash into the burning heart of the abominable;
    Yet if we wait, unafraid, beyond the fearful instant,
    The burning lake turns into a forest pool,
    The fire subsides into rings of water,
    A sunlit silence.
    • "The Abyss"


  • Being, not doing, is my first joy.
    • "The Abyss," l. 100


  • To whom does this terrace belong? —
    With its limestone crumbling into fine greyish dust,
    Its bevy of bees, and its wind-beaten rickety sun-chairs?
    Not to me, but this lizard,
    Older than I, or the cockroach.
    • "The Lizard," ll. 27-31


The small become the great, the great the small;
The right thing happens to the happy man.
  • Pain wanders through my bones like a lost fire;
    What burns me now? Desire, desire, desire.
    • "The Marrow," ll. 11-12


And everything comes to One,
As we dance on, dance on, dance on.
  • I bleed my bones, their marrow to bestow
    Upon that God who knows what I would know.
    • "The Marrow," ll. 23-24


  • Let others probe the mystery if they can.
    Time-harried prisoners of Shall and Will
    The right thing happens to the happy man.
    • "The Right Thing," ll. 1-3


  • God bless the roots! — Body and soul are one!
    The small become the great, the great the small;
    The right thing happens to the happy man.
    • "The Right Thing," ll. 7-9


  • And I dance with William Blake
    For love, for Love's sake;

    And everything comes to One,
    As we dance on, dance on, dance on.

    • Once More, the Round," ll. 11-12

Poetry and Craft (1965)Edit

Copper Canyon Press, 2001, ISBN 1-55659-156-X
Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It's what everything else isn't.
  • Poetry is not a mere shuffling of dead words or even a corralling of live ones. (p. 89)


  • In our age, if a boy or girl is untalented, the odds are in favor of their thinking they want to write. (p. 89)


  • There's an element of desperation in the insistence of the graduate student's respect for knowledge — as opposed to wisdom. (p. 95)


  • The poem, even a short time after being written, seems no miracle; unwritten, it seems something beyond the capacity of the gods.


  • Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It's what everything else isn't.


  • You can't make poetry simply by avoiding clichés.


  • There's a point where plainness is no longer a virtue, when it becomes excessively bald, wrenched.


  • You must believe: a poem is a holy thing — a good poem, that is.


Prevously Uncollected Poems (1975)Edit

From The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, Doubleday, 1975, ISBN 0-385-08601-6
  • Yet for this we travelled
    With hope, and not alone,
    In the country of ourselves,
    In a country of bright stone.
    • "The Harsh Country," ll. 13-16


External linksEdit

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