Theodore Roethke's Poetry

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Childhood is a time in which one’s personality begins to be revealed and shaped. Though everyday events in one’s childhood may seem insignificant, these mundane moments will be remembered long into adulthood. These ordinary moments can be seen in a glimpse of Theodore Roethke’s poems. Throughout Roethke’s childhood and adult life, he was exposed to difficult situations. These events significantly impacted his poetry later in his life, and he uses rhythm to express his poem’s themes of grief, nature, and mental illness, along with rhyme and alliteration.
In the poem “My Papa’s Waltz” Roethke strategically uses rhythm to enhance the meaning of the poem. Roethke uses iambic trimeter to mimic the waltzing that is occurring in the poem (“My Papa’s
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Roethke was hospitalized for the first time in the 1940s, and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and manic depression (“Theodore Roethke” 2). This incident as well as several episodes that followed severely impacted his poetry (“Theodore Roethke” 2). Rather than staying discouraged by his bout with mental disorders, Roethke found a way to positively channel these strong emotions into his poetry. In the poem “Dolor,” he shares his experience with depression. His diction allows the reader to understand his depression, by using phrases such as “inexorable sadness” (“Dolor” 1) and “unalterable pathos” (“Dolor” 6). Both of these phrases articulate the feeling that the depression will never end and cannot be fixed. By the end of the poem, he describes himself and those around him as “duplicate grey standard faces,” (“Dolor” 13) which makes the reader feel as though his or her uniqueness has been completely stripped away. Similarly, in the poem “In a Dark Time,” Roethke describes what it is like living with mental illness (“In a Dark Time” Baird 1). By using simile, Roethke describes his soul as a “heat-maddened summer fly,” (“In a Dark Time” 20) leaving the reader agitated. In the same poem, Roethke writes, “What's madness but nobility of soul” (“In a Dark Time” 7) conveying his belief that insanity does not necessarily have to be negative. Rather than looking at this disorder as a roadblock, Roethke sees it as something that gives one a new and unique perspective on the world (“In a Dark Time” Baird 3). After overcoming his mental illness, Roethke attempts to articulate how it felt to be free of that burden in his poem, “The
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