Monday, February 1, 2010

Theodore Roethke

I've taught "My Papa's Waltz" more times than I care to recall.  It works for every level of reader I've worked with, from age eleven to age one-hundred and eleven (slight exaggeration), because of the way discussion makes the reader aware of the assumptions we make.  No poem seems to better draw out a reader's personal assumptions (about fathers, working men, alcohol, etc) than this compact little work.

I hadn't read "Meditation at Oyster River" until this week.  It reminds me a lot of Annie Dillard's work in the way it brings nature inward and makes it part of an internal mental landscape.  A friend of mine (Dorine Preston, poet at large) once pointed out to me that Dillard's "Living Like Weasels" is structured like a classical ode, moving from strophe to antistrophe and finally settling (or unsettling, as the case may be) on an epode.  I have the sense that Roethke's poem works in similar ways.

When I've taught the classic Romantic odes in Brit Lit (Wordsworth's Intimations Ode, for example), we've talked about how the ode is the form of a mind at work.  If that thesis is correct, then it would seem fitting that Roethke's "Meditations" would employ a similar, if unstated, structure of moving from the natural external world to the natural internal world in the same manner as Dillard.

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