The Influence of Nature and Roethkes Father on His Poetry

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Christina Dietrich

Dr. Joanne Gabel

Composition and Literature 131

April 13 2011

Essay B

The Influence of Nature and Roethke’s Father on His Poetry

        Theodore Roethke was born among the glorious valleys and streams of Saginaw, Michigan. His parents and his uncle were the owners of a 25 acre greenhouse which is where Roethke spent much of his childhood. These beautiful greenhouses, filled with lively colorful plants are where Roethke and his father spent their bonding time together. At the young age of fifteen, Roethke lost his uncle due to suicide and his father died from cancer only one year after. Feeling abandoned by his father’s death and being completely surrounded by nature as a child would later prove to be the stepping stone and creative vision in which his prize winning poems would be created from.

        Growing up in Saginaw valley, Roethke referred to the area as a “very fertile flat country that lies at the northern edge of what is now the central industrial area of the United States” (Pagina). As he explored the riverbanks that surrounded his home, he collected ancient arrowheads left behind by Native Americans, all the while dreaming of the stories that each piece held. He also roamed the game sanctuary that the family maintained. Allan Seager mentions in his book that Roethke once stated, "I had several worlds to live in, which I felt were mine. One favorite place was a swampy corner of the game sanctuary where herons always nested" (23).  Many of his poems include references to the greenhouses and riverbanks which he explored. In fact, he later wrote an entire poem about Saginaw entitled “The Saginaw Song.” Another great greenhouse poem is “Big Wind”. This poem illustrates the struggles in maintaining the greenhouse through a strong wind storm, Roethke wrote, “…Cracking so much thin glass, we stayed all night, stuffing the holes with burlap, but she rode it out, that old rose-house…” (Roethke 39).

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        Roethke called his greenhouses “both heaven and hell” (Paglia). He explained that the overwhelming beauty of the plants was soothing but keeping them alive was hard work and even as a child he struggled emotionally when a plant did not survive. One poem in particular written by Roethke “The Geranium” shows its readers a tortured relationship with a plant and the struggle to keep it alive. In one of his many notebooks that he kept, he asked himself, “What was the greenhouse? It was a jungle, and it was paradise; it was order and disorder” (Paglia). These greenhouses and his ...

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