BiographyBorn: May 25, 1908 in Saginaw,Michigan Theodore RoethkeDied: August 1, 1963 in BainbridgeIsland, Washington- Son of Otto Theodore and HelenMarie- Married Beatrice Heath OConnell onJanuary 3, 1953Education: University of Michigan(1929)- Graduate study completed atHarvard University
Personal Life Interest in literature began at young age Coached tennis team at Pennsylvania State University Lost his job at Michigan State after one semesterbecause of a mental breakdown Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and manicdepression Unable to deal with everyday life and had to beinstitutionalized Denied service in WWII due to condition Used illness to connect to other ‘spiritual’ realms
Influences on Roethke’s Writing- Roethke grew up in thegreenhouse (built by father anduncle)- Returned to it to in later yearsrelive childhood memories- Drew a source of inspiration andpower for his poetry- At age fourteen, Roethke’s fatherdied- Left subconsciously feeling a senseof abandonment
Literary Period: Contemporary PeriodForms/Techniques Commonly Used:Blending fiction & nonfiction-Blending fantasy and realism-Dialogue in poemsThemes include expression of complex,impersonal, and commercial nature of theworld.
Historical Setting of Contemporary~Period States had emerged from The UnitedWWII as a powerful force in theworld.~The Cold War between the SovietUnion and the West commenced.~ Domestically, segregation in allpublic schools was banned.~1969: American astronaut NeilArmstrong became the first man toset foot on the moon.~TV’s proliferated in houses andAmerican industry rapidly changed~These changes influenced the works
Significant WorkSBooks:1.Open House (1941)2. The Lost Son and Other Poems (1948)3. Praise to the End (1951)4. The Waking (1953)5. Words for the Wind (1958)6. I Am! Says the Lamb (1961) Poems:7. The Far Field (1964) 1.The Reckoning (1941) 2.My Papa’s Waltz (1948) 3.Pickle Belt (1948) 4.Elegy for Jane (1953) 5. Journey to the Interior (1964) 6. The Geranium (1964) 7. In a Dark Time (1964)
My Papas Waltz 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 mothers countenance Could not unfrown itself. The hand that held my wrist Was battered on one knuckle; At every step you missed My right ear scraped a buckle. You beat time on my head With a palm caked hard by dirt, Then waltzed me off to bed Still clinging to your shirt.
Line by Line ExplanationLines 1-2:- Mood and tone are established,- Relationship between two characters introducedLine 3:- Sense of fear shown in son; “like death”- Boy was perhaps frightened or had emotional separation anxietyLine 4:- First reference to the actual waltz- Paradox introduced: “such waltzing was not easy”.- Literally: humorous image of son trying to dance with drunk father- Metaphorically: difficult father/son relationshipLines 5-6:- Boisterousness of waltz depicted- Ironic because waltzes are generally fluid and elegantLines 7-9:-Mother is introduced as a disapproving figure-Synecdoche: essential aspects of the part describe the whole
Cont’d Line by Line ExplanationLines 9-12:- Father’s actions have direct consequence on son- Pain is emphasized; father’s pain seems to be from his occupation, whilethe son’s is from his dancing with (or his relationship with) his father.Lines 13-14:- The hand keeping rhythm on the boy’s head is an odd gesture- Shows awkwardness of danceLines 15-16:- On the surface, the conclusion is just an easygoing parting.- The dance ends and the son is ‘waltzed’ off to bed, ‘clinging’ onto his shirt- Child could’ve been frightened of father, or in a deeper sense, may nothave wanted the dance (or the relationship) to come to an end.- The son may not have wanted death to separate them, which we know iswhat happened in Roethke’s personal life.
Themes:2 key themes are developed:3.The son’s attempt to understand his relationship with his father4.The use of the dance as a metaphor for life itself.The poem contains many ironies that are highlighted by Roethke’s use ofdetail. ex) A waltz has a positive connotation, and is graceful and romantic.The dance in the poem, however, is jolting and awkward. A father and sonwaltzing is quite abnormal.Forms/Devices Used in this Poem:• The meter, though iambic, at times adds an extra syllable at the end ofthe second or fourth line. (ex. “could make a small boy dizzy”)• Lines are short and do not flowDiction:• The diction mixes words that a child may use (due to the subject of thepoem) and words of an adult, because the poem is flashback from anadult’s perspective. (ex.“papa” is a child name for ‘father’, whereas“countenance” is a more mature term for describing a person).• Roethke’s word choice is also connotative (ex. “like death” and “clinging.”)
Literary Criticism“Roethke was a great poet, the successor to Frost and Stevens in modernAmerican poetry. /…/ Specifically, Roethke was a Romantic. His workabounds in references to Blake, Wordsworth, and Yeats, especially, but mystress is upon the American quality of his Romanticism. /…/ Withoutimpugning his originality, one can read all Roethkes work as a continuingconversation with his precursors; he was a poetic ventriloquist of sorts,able to speak through masks of those whom he called "the great dead."Still, there is a voice at his core which is unmistakably his own. He hashis special province, a landscape so personal and distinct that no amountof imitation or writing-like-somebody-else, as he called it, disturbs theintegrity of his voice....”
Literary Criticism con’td“One central source of conflict for Roethke was his fathers death when hewas fifteen. He returns to this painful experience of loss throughout hiscareer, always seeking that final atonement where conflicts are abolishedand harmony is restored. I doubt whether he attained this goal, but perhapshe didnt really want to; this conflict proved a wealthy source of poetry.From this single life crisis, Roethke generated his mythos /…/ Otto, thefather, lords over this dream world; he is the "garden master" /…/ Ottometamorphoses into God in the later poems…”
Literary Criticism con’td“The greenhouse as a symbol was obviously rich in possibilities. /…/ Farfrom the transcendental state of resolution, the greenhouse stands forprocess, for generation. It is paradisaical in its lushness /…/ protected fromthe wilderness outside its walls. But this paradise remains unnatural,artificial. Only the massive effort of the florist-father keeps it going throughwinter. It is analogous with the family itself, that hothouse where a childmatures in the constant temperature of parental protection/…/ the vinesthat reach out for something to wind around: these terrify the child. Topress the analogy one step further /…/ the father-son struggle witnessedin Roethke becomes part of the sons efforts to establish identity. “