The Somber Dance The Somber Dance Theodore Roethke, poet and author, has contributed many well-known pieces to American literature. Roethke wrote close to 200 notebooks worth of poems. Only three percent of the poems in his notebooks were actually published. Most pieces, well-known to the public, are collections of poems such as The Waking, which he won a Pulitzer prize for in the mid 1950s. The Lost Son and Open House are two other collections pieces of Roethke.
A couple novels also helped this aspiring author and poet achieve his status among literature; Words for the Wind and The Far Field. All of the works just mentioned were not achieved by Roethke until he was well into his late 20s. As a child, he was hardly one who would have been expected to become a major American poet. Saginaw, Michigan, 1908, Otto and Helen Roethke welcomed their son Theodore into the world. Theodores future relationship with his parents would not be a considerable special one, especially with his father.
Otto, a floriculturalist and greenhouse owner would have his mood swings with his two sons. Mood swings increased as Ottos consumption of alcohol increased. On the outside it seemed Theodore could handle his fathers awful drunken and abusive side. Years later, Theodore would express his true pain emotionally and physically in several of his poems. As for Charles, his brother, it was obvious he could not handle the pain. Charles committed suicide when Theodore was 14.
Several months afterwards Otto passed away of cancer. These two deaths did not stop Theodore in his tracks. He graduated high school and went onto University of Michigan and later to Harvard for graduate study. Harvard is where Roethke first began to discuss and write poetry openly. Theodores career began as an English instructor at a college in Pennsylvania. Just a few years later he became an English professor at University of Michigan. Roethke was a well-liked professor.
He always wanted to be remembered as unique. In order to accomplish being unique, Theodore would occasionally extend the classroom sessions into a local bar. Some of his former students are well-known 2 poets now such as Richard Hugo and James Wright. During his employment at University of Michigan, Theodore began having nervous breakdowns and a slight problem with alcoholism. His fathers problems with alcohol is reflected in Theodores use of it. The nervous breakdowns, however, eventually led him to the hospital.
He tried too hard to be such an outstanding professor by doing too much. His mind was not able to keep up with his body. Many co-workers did not understand the mental problems Roethke was having and assumed he was mentally insane and incapable to continue teaching. This began interfering with his job. Things started looking up however when he re-united with one of his former students, Beatrice OConnell.
The two fell in love after and became married when Theodore was 45. His happiness in his marriage did not keep away his mental frustrations though. It was interfering with work once again and was fired from University of Michigan the same year of his marriage. The newly married couple decided to drop everything and move to Seattle, Washington. Roethke found a job immediately at University of Washington as an English professor.
Although he and his wife never had any children they lived a more peaceful life in Seattle. In 1963, just ten years after his marriage to Beatrice, Roethke passed away from a heart attack. Before leaving this world though, he left behind an extraordinary poem, My Papas Waltz. 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. 2 My Papas Waltz was written in 1948. The main subject to this poem is a childs memory of his abusive, alcoholic father and their love/hate relationship. It takes place at night. This is shown through the second to last line, Then waltzed me off to bed.
The setting is the familys home due to the description of a kitchen and heading to bed (The glass house, p29). Due to Roethkes relationship with his own father, this poem reflects his own past childhood. An example of his use of similes include, The whiskey on your breath/Could make a small boy dizzy;/ But I hung on like death. Roethke also uses imagery and a unifying structure to convey the relationship between a child and his father. These two elements make it possible to communicate the emotional bond between parent and child to the reader (Essays on the poetry, p122). The hand that held my wrist/ Was battered on one knuckle;/ At every step you missed/ My right ear scraped a buckle gives the reader an extremely clear understanding of the abusive situation (Essays on the poetry, p124).
After this picture is successfully painted in the readers mind, the writer does the near impossible. He has conveyed the emotions of a very personal bond that could not be grasped on our own. Only with the help of imagery and structure do we get a glimpse of the lives of these two people and feel the emotion that they feel. The entire poem is based on Roethkes own childhood life. Theodore Roethke is extremely important to todays literature.
This is based on the fact of his ability to use imagery so vividly that the reader cannot help but feel emotional when reading most of his poetry. I am sure Roethke was able to use this imagery so well because of so many memories stuck in his mind from his odd relationship with his father. I was able to understand and get into this poem completely due to the imagery used. Works Cited Seagar, Allan. The glass house; the life of Theodore Roethke.
New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968. Stein, Arnold Sidney. Theodore Roethke; essays on the poetry. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1965. The Academy of American Poets.
Ed. Melissa Ozawa. 1997-2000. 17 October 2000 *http://www.poets.org*. Poetry Essays.