“…where gods have lost their way.”

“O my poor words, bear with me.”


“I teach my sighs to lengthen into songs.”


“I have gone into the waste lonely places”


“How terrible the need for God.”


“Reason? That dreary shed, that hutch for grubby schoolboys.”


“I wish I could find an event that meant as much as simple seeing.”



I was given a volume of The Collected Poems of the American poet Theodore Roethke when I was 17: it was sent to me from a young girl whom I adored, who’d recently moved back to The United States. I still have the much cherished, dog-eared book with it’s now flax-coloured pages and pencil underlining on my shelf. At once introspective and a celebration of nature, his poems have been my close friends through the years. Some are opaque, like dark pools of water, yet peering into them one can delight in the rhythm of the words, their sound and form simply for the pleasure they bring. Here an intellectual comprehension may be less useful than a visceral response to his poems. I think he would forgive me for comprehending his poems with my heart rather than my mind (“Reason? That dreary shed, that hutch for grubby schoolboys.”).

Often a single verse, a few poignant words have left me breathless. His poetry is whimsical and deep, playful, powerful, mystical. His work is a fissure in a rock or a clearing in the woods; an unexpected opening through which he invites us to look, and to listen. Roethke had the ability “to perceive reality in terms of the tensions between inner and outer worlds, and to find a meaningful system of metaphor with which to communicate this perception” (Karl Malkoff of The Sewanee Review).

All finite things reveal infinitude”
The Far Field

“I think of the nestling fallen into the deep grass, The turtle gasping in the dusty rubble of the highway, The paralytic stunned in the tub, and the water rising,— All things innocent, hapless, forsaken.” 
The Meadow Mouse By Theodore Roethke

“The body and the soul know how to play In that dark world where gods have lost their way. “
The Partner By Theodore Roethke

In a Dark Time
“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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