Before the month is completely over, it's time to switch out the Off the Shelf selection once again. Browsing through the past entries, I discovered I'd yet to post anything by Theodore Roethke. Born in Saginaw, Michigan, Roethke (1908-1963) belongs to that period of American poetry between Whitman and Ginsberg, and was influenced by T.S. Elliot, W.H. Auden, and Whitman himself. The son of a German immigrant market farmer whose death when the poet was fifteen profoundly influenced his life and work, Roethke spent his young years working in his father's greenhouse. He later taught English at Michigan State University and the University of Washington, and published several volumes of poetry and was, as poets go, well-known and successful. His life was marked by episodes of severe manic depression and heavy drinking, and he died at 55 of a heart attack. I've selected two of his shorter works, different in style and theme: Dolor, and Journey into the Interior.
You can find them here in the Off the Shelf Archive for June 2011.In order to make room for this new selection, Robert Frost's The Hill Wife makes a final appearance before entering the archives. As always, feel free to comment on either poem here, as comments are disabled off the main page, and suggestions for next time are always welcome.
The Hill Wife
by Robert Frost
One ought not to have to care
So much as you and I
Care when the birds come round the house
To seem to say good-bye;
Or care so much when they come back
With whatever it is they sing;
The truth being we are as much
Too glad for the one thing
As we are too sad for the other here --
With birds that fill their breasts
But with each other and themselves
And their built or driven nests.
II. HOUSE FEAR
Always -- I tell you this they learned --
Always at night when they returned
To the lonely house from far away
To lamps unlighted and fire gone gray,
They learned to rattle the lock and key
To give whatever might chance to be
Warning and time to be off in flight:
And preferring the out- to the in-door night,
They learned to leave the house-door wide
Until they had lit the lamp inside.
III. THE SMILE
I didn't like the way he went away.
That smile! It never came of being gay.
Still he smiled- did you see him?- I was sure!
Perhaps because we gave him only bread
And the wretch knew from that that we were poor.
Perhaps because he let us give instead
Of seizing from us as he might have seized.
Perhaps he mocked at us for being wed,
Or being very young (and he was pleased
To have a vision of us old and dead).
I wonder how far down the road he's got.
He's watching from the woods as like as not.
IV. THE OFT-REPEATED DREAM
She had no saying dark enough
For the dark pine that kept
Forever trying the window-latch
Of the room where they slept.
The tireless but ineffectual hands
That with every futile pass
Made the great tree seem as a little bird
Before the mystery of glass!
It never had been inside the room,
And only one of the two
Was afraid in an oft-repeated dream
Of what the tree might do.
V. THE IMPULSE
It was too lonely for her there,
And too wild,
And since there were but two of them,
And no child,
And work was little in the house,
She was free,
And followed where he furrowed field,
Or felled tree.
She rested on a log and tossed
The fresh chips,
With a song only to herself
On her lips.
And once she went to break a bough
Of black alder.
She strayed so far she scarcely heard.
When he called her --
And didn't answer -- didn't speak --
She stood, and then she ran and hid
In the fern.
He never found her, though he looked
And he asked at her mother's house
Was she there.
Sudden and swift and light as that
The ties gave,
And he learned of finalities
Besides the grave.
Image: Boreas, by John William Waterhouse, 1903
courtesy wikimedia commons