The Echoing Wood of Theodore Roethke

The Echoing Wood of Theodore Roethke

Jenijoy La Belle
Copyright Date: 1976
Pages: 190
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  • Book Info
    The Echoing Wood of Theodore Roethke
    Book Description:

    A poet's tradition provides him with a sense of community that may be regarded as a necessary condition for poetry. Jenijoy La Belle, who studied with Roethke, here describes the cultural tradition that he defined and created for himself. In so doing, she demonstrates how an understanding of Roethke's sources and the influences on his work is essential for its interpretation.

    The author considers the sources of Roethke's poetry and the influence on him of a wide circle of poets including T. S. Eliot, Yeats, Whitman, Wordsworth, Smart, Donne, Sir John Davies, and Dante. In addition, she traces the changes in Roethke's response to his literary past as he moves from his early lyrics to his final sequences. His imitation of selected poets began as a conscious effort but later became a basic component of his imaginative faculties, encompassing an historical attitude and a psychological state.

    Originally published in 1976.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6995-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-6)

    Ever since the publication of these words of T. S. Eliot in his “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919), critics have taken an increasing interest in the relationship between modern poetry and the works of the past toward which it reaches for sustenance. Eliot’s own statements have themselves become part of a tradition, insisting that poetry cannot be writtenin vacuo. Yet the modern situation—so the argument goes—allows the poet no body of generally accepted meanings or purposeful rhetoric that he can use in full confidence of being understood. The poet must therefore discover and in a sense...

  5. I Conscious Imitation
    (pp. 7-23)

    “In any quest for identity today—or any day,” wrote Roethke, “we run up inevitably against this problem: What to do with our ancestors? I mean it as an ambiguity: both the literal or blood, and the spiritual ancestors. Both, as we know, can overwhelm us. The devouring mother, the furious papa. And if we’re trying to write, the Supreme Masters.”¹ This “problem” as defined by Roethke in 1963, the last year of his life, was exactly the one with which he was struggling thirty years earlier while writing the poems for his first volume,Open House(1941). He was...

  6. II Sympathetic Imitation
    (pp. 24-50)

    “At a time like ours …,” T. S. Eliot has written, “we are inclined … to exaggerate the importance of the innovators at the expense of the reputation of the developers.”¹ Nearly all of the critics who reviewedOpen Houseagreed that the lyrics were highly traditional, though few attempted to define the tradition; but because of the revolutionary appearance of some of the poems inThe Lost Son, the critics allowed their enthusiasm over Roethke’s innovations to obscure their judgments of his developments within a tradition.² One of the most ignored yet most important components of the tradition that...

  7. III A Widening Sensibility
    (pp. 51-83)

    The titles of all six poems in Part I ofPraise to the End!derive from the expanding sense of a literary heritage that Roethke was beginning to make his own.¹ Some have mistaken this eclecticism for an “eccentricity” detached from any tradition,² but this is clearly not the case. Christopher Smart’schef-d’oeuvre, “A Song to David,” is the source for both the title and the basic structure of the first poem, “Where Knock Is Open Wide.” Because Smart brought to his poem “a mind richly stored with information gathered from a variety of sources, some of which are not...

  8. IV Archetypes of Tradition
    (pp. 84-103)

    Sooner or later in almost every lengthy study of Theodore Roethke the name C. G. Jung appears. At first he is introduced tentatively with footnotes explaining that “the precise extent and nature” of Roethke’s reading in his works is “not certain”; or that Roethke’s poetry is linked with Jung’s theories—but only as they are mediated through his exegete, Maud Bodkin, with whoseArchetypal Patterns in PoetryRoethke was familiar. Before long, however, that which was suggested as provisional is considered proved: caution and Bodkin are flung to the winds, and Jung is firmly established as a direct influence upon...

  9. V A Motion Not His Own
    (pp. 104-125)

    As Roethke nears the end of his “sequence of dramatic pieces beginning with a small child and working up,”¹ he looks back over what he has done: thus the images in “Unfold! Unfold!” rather than alluding only to Henry Vaughan’s brief poem “The Revival” from which Roethke took his title, also refer back to the previous poems in the sequence. Roethke “revives” many of his most characteristic images and “unfolds” what his methods in writing the long poems have been. In the first line, for example, he cites rather than uses some of those images which are central in the...

  10. VI Meditations
    (pp. 126-140)

    As we have seen, Roethke is finally most original when he is most imitative, almost always returning to another poet as much as he has received from him. What is often difficult to determine exactly, however, is from which poet or what poem Roethke is borrowing. This has been a question critics have tried to answer about one of his finest sequences of long poems,Meditations of an Old Woman, in which an aging yet intellectually vital old crone prepares for death by trying to understand life. According to Roethke, the old woman is modeled, in part, after his own...

  11. VII A Storm of Correspondences
    (pp. 141-164)

    InMeditations of an Old Woman(1958), Roethke clearly expands his sense of tradition. He places his poems within the context of two genres—the dramatic monologue and the meditation—and brings together a creative and critical gathering of three poets (Whitman, Eliot, Roethke) whereby we are asked to read each poet through the perspective provided by the others. In theMixed Sequence(fromThe Far Field, 1964), we do not find a further development of these complex relationships or the discovery and assimilation of new poets. Rather we have a reprise—a reinvestigation of poets Roethke had earlier made...

  12. Afterword
    (pp. 165-168)

    Just as Roethke related his poems to specific works rather than to abstract concepts of style, he saw his literary tradition not as a series of periods but as a community of selected individual talents, somehow in touch with one another even as he was in touch with them. At first this group was limited mainly to a few women poets whom he admired, but the circle widened rapidly as he reached out to Wordsworth, Blake, and Smart, to several Renaissance poets, including Donne and Sir John Davies, to the great moderns, Whitman, Yeats, and Eliot, and finally even to...

  13. Index
    (pp. 169-174)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 175-177)