Inspired by Nature: Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke, an eminent American poet, was born in Saginaw, Michigan, on May 25, 1908. Hailing from a family of German immigrants, Roethke’s childhood experiences in his father’s greenhouse greatly influenced his poetic sensibilities. Renowned for his introspective and deeply personal poems, Theodore Roethke skillfully captured the essence of the human condition by delving into themes such as nature, love, and the passage of time.

Roethke’s academic journey led him to the University of Michigan, where he pursued both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in English. Subsequently, he began a career in academia, teaching at various prestigious institutions such as Pennsylvania State University, Lafayette College, and the University of Washington. It was during his tenure at these institutions that Theodore Roethke produced some of his most celebrated works, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Waking (1953).

Roethke’s distinct poetic style was characterized by an intense focus on rhythm and form. Drawing inspiration from his greenhouse upbringing, many of his poems utilized vivid imagery and symbolism to explore themes of growth, transformation, and the cyclical nature of life. Furthermore, Roethke’s work often displayed a deep sense of introspection and self-discovery, echoing the sentiments of his contemporaries in the Confessionalist poetry movement.

Theodore Roethke’s contributions to American literature were immense and indelible. His unique voice and masterful command of language not only earned him numerous accolades during his lifetime but also secured his place as one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century. Roethke’s work continues to resonate with readers today, serving as a testament to the enduring power and relevance of poetry in our lives.


To loosen with all ten fingers held wide and limber
And lift up a patch, dark-green, the kind for lining cemetery baskets,
Thick and cushiony, like an old-fashioned doormat,
The crumbling small hollow sticks on the underside mixed with roots,
And wintergreen berries and leaves still stuck to the top, —
That was moss-gathering.
But something always went out of me when I dug loose those carpets
Of green, or plunged to my elbows in the spongy yellowish moss of the marshes:
And afterwards I always felt mean, jogging back over the logging road,
As if I had broken the natural order of things in that swampland;
Disturbed some rhythm, old and of vast importance,
By pulling off flesh from the living planet;
As if I had committed, against the whole scheme of life, a desecration.

-Theodore Roethke

Curated by Jennifer

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