An Evening with Theodore Roethke

6071695575_84bd94cbf3_zpostagestampLast night, in Saginaw, Michigan, I had the opportunity to visit the Roethke House, the childhood home of 1954 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry Winner, Theodore Roethke.

The childhood home of Theodore Roethke was restored by the Friends of Theodore Roethke Foundation. The house is a National Literary Landmark. A Michigan Historic Marker stands in the front yard. The Friends of Theodore Roethke Foundation offer tours of the house and often host literature-related activities in the house and the surrounding community.

20141203_191216The house is filled with furniture and artifacts that were originally in the home. Dozens of photographs of Roethke and his family cover the walls and several of Roethke’s poems are posted appropriate places.

Those familiar with Roethke’s work can appreciate a recitation of “My Papa’s Waltz” in the kitchen, “Dirty Dinky” (a children’s poem) in Roethke’s bedroom, “The Bat” in the attic, and “Root Cellar” in … well in a place where

Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like
tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!–

Sadly, the family greenhouses that inspired so much of Roethke’s poetry no longer occupy several acres behind the house. Now it’s just more houses and more backyards.

I had the pleasure to stand in the foyer and recite one of my favorite poems by any poet, “In a Dark Time.” I won’t say I made some sort of connection with his spirit, but I did feel a deep sense of honor for the opportunity. Theodore Roethke was one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century, and I’m proud to share a hometown with him.

by Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood–
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks–is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is–
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.


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