Theodore Roethke

"Frau Bauman, Frau Schmidt, And Frau Schwartze"

Gone the three ancient ladies
Who creaked on the greenhouse ladders,
Reaching up white strings
To wind, to wind
The sweet-pea tendrils, the smilax,
nasturtiums, the climbing
Roses, to straighten
Carnations, red
Chrysanthemums; the stiff
Stems jointed like corn,
They tied and tucked,--
These nurses of nobody else.
Why nobody else? What does this say about their lives apart from the greenhouse? They have no other life. They nurse nobody else. They have no children or husbands. They're three spinsters that work here and that's their lives.
Quicker than birds, they dipped
Up and sifted the dirt;
They sprinkkled and shook;
They stood astride pipes,
Their skirts billowing out wide into tents,
Their hands twinkling with wet;
Like witches they flew along rows
Keeping creation at ease;
It is their job to preserve the order of the greenhouse and to keep the life blooming.
With a tendril for needle
They sewed up the air with a stem;
They teased out the seed that the cold kept asleep,--
They made the seeds sprout before they would have outside the greenhouse.
All the coils, loops, and whorls.
They trellised the sun; they plotted for more than themselves.
I remember how they picked me up, a spindly kid,
Pinching and poking my thin ribs
Till I lay in their laps, laughing,
Weak as a whiffet;
In a sense, they helped him grow up too. Pinch, poke, that sounds like what they were doing to the plants. In a way, they are helping him grow up and playing with him. He is their boy. They don't have children of their own, so they adopt the owner's grandson and play with him.They can take out all of their motherly feelings on him.
Now, when I'm alone and cold in my bed,
They still hover over me,
These ancient leathery crones,
With their bandannas stiffened with sweat,
And their thorn-bitten wrists,
And their snuff-laden breath blowing lightly over me in my first sleep.
Did any of you ever know an old lady who dipped snuff? My great-grandmother dipped snuff. I remember her. In the old days, for an old lady. They didn't smoke, of course. It wasn't lady like to smoke. They put a little snuff in, but just a pinch, between the teeth and gums.

"The Far Field"

I dream of journeys repeatedly:
Of flying like a bat deep into a narrowing tunnel,
Of driving alone, without luggage, out a long peninsula,
The road lined with snow-laden second growth,
A fine dry snow ticking the windshield,
Alternate snow and sleet, no on-coming traffic,
And no lights behind, in the blurred side-mirror,
The road changing from glazed tarface to a rubble of stone,
Ending at last in a hopeless sand-rut,
Where the car stalls,
Churning in a snowdrift
Until the headlights darken.
He's not on the right road, is he? Have you ever been out there, cruising along, and all of a sudden, the asphalt turns to gravel, the gravel turns to ruts? Has that happened to you? It has certainly happened to me. That's when I knew I was lost and finally stopped and asked for directions. I said, I know this maps right. Somebody told me how to get there over the phone, and left out a turn or two. I said I know I did exactly what this mad says. I know I am going down this road. The road finally turned to dirt and I said, well I guess we'll stop and ask for directions. You know they came out with Viagra last year? They've got a new pill, Directra. An hour after taking it a man is able to stop and ask for directions.  He didn't stop and ask for directions, so he's out here in the middle of the snow and all of a sudden he's stuck. It's a bad place to be. You can die, right? Of course, now they've got cell phones, which is a great break through for the people in the North. But a couple of years ago, they found this guy frozen after several weeks. He had kept a diary as he slowly froze to death.
At the field's end, in the corner missed by the mower,
Where the turf drops off into a grass-hidden culvert,
Haunt of the cat-bird, nesting-place of the field-mouse,
Not too far away from the ever-changing flower-dump,
Among the tin cans , tires, rusted pipes, broken machinery,--
One learned of the eternal;
He's learning about the eternal in this dark, snowy field that people use for a garbage dump.
And in the shrunken face of a dead rat, eaten by rain and ground-beetles
(I found it lying among the rubble of an old coal bin)
And the tom-cat, caught near the pheasant-run,
Its entrails strewn over the half-grown flowers,
Blasted to death by the night watchman.
Why does the night watchman shoot the cat? There's nothing out there to shoot at. You know, Barney's got his bullet in his pocket, so he loads up and shoots the cat. There's nothing else to shoot out there.
I suffered for birds, for young rabbits caught in the mower,
My grief was not excessive.
It sounds like he's talking about his youth. He's feeling sorry for the little animals, but not that much.
For to come upon warblers in early May
Was to forget time and death:
When you're young, time and death don't weight that heavily.
-Or to lie naked in sand,
In the silted shallows of a slow river,
Fingering a shell,
He is skinny dipping.
Once I was something like this, mindless,
Or perhaps with another mind, less peculiar;
Or to sink down to the hips in a mossy quagmire;
Or, with skinny knees, to sit astride a wet log,
I'll return again,
As a snake or a raucous bird,
Or, with luck, as a lion.
Hey, maybe this reincarnation stuff has something to it.
I learned not to fear infinity,
The far field, the windy cliffs of forever,
The dying of time in the white light of tomorrow,
The wheel turning away from itself,
The sprawl of the wave,
The on-coming wave.
He's not afraid of infinity.
I have come to a still, but not a deep center,
A point outside the glittering current;
My eyes stare at the bottom of a river,
At the irregular stones, iridescent sandgrains,
My mind moves in more than one place,
In a country half-land, half-water.
He's found a still spot in the river, but not a deep one. It sounds like his life also. There's a symbolic level to that. He's at a calm part in his life, but that doesn't necessarily mean he is a calm person.
I am renewed by death, thought of my death,
The dry scent of a dying garden in September,
The wind fanning the ash of a low fire.
What I love is near at hand,
Always, in earth and air.
He becomes renewed by death, rather than thinking it's dim. And, of course, this is another theory of death, but one that we haven't seen much. We've seen the eternal life theory. We've seen the recycle theory, where you're planted, and then comes the grass that recycles your chemicals. We've even seen the non-recyclable theory, where you're put down there and nothing happens. But here is the, sort of will of life, where you come back as something else. It's sort of an Eastern idea.
The lost self changes,
Turning toward the sea,
A sea-shape turning around,--
An old man with his feet before the fire,
In robes of green in garments of adieu.
Oldness has been associated with the red leaf, the dying. But the green robes indicate life, so he can bring robes to get ready for, perhaps, a new life.
A man faced with his own immensity
Wakes all the waves, all their loose wandering fire.
The murmur of the absolute, the why
Of being born falls on his naked ears.
His spirit moves like monumental wind
That gentles on a sunny blue plateau.
He is the end of things, the final man.
All finite things reveal infinitude:
I suppose that he's the last man, but in the sense that we all are, and infinitude is revealed in our finite selves.
The mountain with its singular bright shade
Like the blue shine on freshly frozen snow,
The after-light upon ice-burdened pines;
Odor of basswood on a mountain-slope,
A scent beloved of bees;
Silence of water above a sunken tree:
The pure serene of memory in one man,--
A ripple widening from a single stone
Winding around the waters of the world.
He is, in a one man, limited, but the impact of that one man goes around the world.

"In a Dark Time"

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
If you turn out the lights, at first you don't see anything. But after a while, your eyes adjust and you begin to see. He's saying that in a dark time of your life, you begin to see things that you might not immediately see as it first falls upon you.
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.
So, he's connected to all of the other living things.
What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance?
That's an interesting of being crazy. He says to be crazy is to be noble, but to be unable to get along with things the way they really are.
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.
He can't tell what he has because it's too dark.
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 - So have you found yourself? Did you come to Tech to find yourself? Do you go out into the woods to find yourself? And if you do find yourself, what are you going to do with yourself then? You go a long way to found out what you want.

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 if One, free in the tearing wind.

Notice the capitalized one, he has become one with everything.