Wednesday, April 21, 2010

For the waltz of To, / The pinch of Where

Quick, very quick, think of three favorite poems by different authors. Now, of those authors, how much more of their work have you read? For me, just as my three favorite poems might vary from day to day, so does the length to which I may have investigated their authors. This is why it has been so wonderful for me to read The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke. While I have read well-known poems like "My Papa's Waltz"and "The Waking" many times, and even have kept a copy of the latter on my walls for many years, I never dove into Roethke's work. I was entirely delighted to find that what I imagined of Roethke - a serious-minded writer knit closely to meter, and, well, a dark sense of the inevitable - was, of course, only a small piece of this writer's world. There have been only few times where my pre-conceived notions/expectations of poets have been so completely dismantled. For those of you unfamiliar with Roethke, here is his poem "The Waking," which had stood for years in my mind as exemplary of what he was all about:

The Waking

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?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And 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.

Now, imagine my astonishment when happening upon work such as the following, the first section from a poem called "Praise To The End!" :

It's dark in this wood, soft mocker.
For whom have I swelled like a seed?
What a bone-ache I have.
Father of tensions, I'm down to my skin at last.

It's a great day for the mice.
Pickle-me, tickle-me, close stems.
Bumpkin, he can dance alone.
Ooh, ooh, I'm a duke of eels.

Arch my back, pretty-bones, I'm dead at both ends.
Softly softly, you'll wake the clams.
I'll feed the ghost alone.
Father, forgive my hands.

The rings have gone from the pond.
The river's alone with its water.
All risings

..... The strangeness of Roethke is far, far beyond what I had ever expected. And now, because I cannot choose just one poem of his to speak this strangeness, a collection of strange lines:

from "I Cry, Love! Love!" : "Bless me and the maze I'm in!/Hello thingy spirit."

from "O, Thou Opening, O":
"I'm king of another condition, /So alive I could die!"

from "O Lull Me, Lull Me" : "In this, the diocese of mice, / Who's bishop of breathing?"

from "The Renewal" : "A raw ghost drinks the fluid from my spine"

.......(makes a sound like pleasure/the wind knocking from lungs)... Roethke's a more complicated & talented writer than I ever imagined.
Three cheers. Go kiss a stone.


Robby said...

I really just need to read more poetry in general, I think.

sophie klahr said...

More reading = (eventually) better writing :)