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Recurring Themes in the Poetry of Theodore Roethke

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The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke contains a variety of poems often with diverse subject matters. Through reading the poems that span across the breadth of Roethke career, one can come to more fully understand his internal thought processes and ideas. Often, a recurring theme develops in poems that were written at very different episodes in his life. These similarities are illustrated in a comparison of “Epidermal Macabre” and “Meditation in Hydrotherapy”.
“Epidermal Macabre” describes the intense feelings the speaker has about his body. Beginning with a feeling of self-loathing, the tone of this piece is fettered with words of disgust. Roethke opens by telling the reader that it is not right to hate your body, “Indelicate is he who loathes/The aspect of his fleshy clothes,”(18). However, only a few lines later, the speaker contradicts himself by admitting that he, too loathes his body:
Yet such is my unseemliness:
I hate my epidermal dress,
The savage blood’s obscenity,
The rags of my anatomy. (18)

By confessing his innermost opinions on the flaws of his person, the narrator is also informing the readers of his damaged mindset. Destroying the integrity of his body, the he refers to his skin as an “unseemly epidermal dress”.
Rhyme scheme adds to this work by bringing forth a formal element to tie each set of ideas together. One can note which nouns the adjectives are describing by tracing back the source line from its soon to follow couplet. The grave opinions expressed in “Epidermal Macabre” are pieced together in an AA, BB rhyme scheme. Nearly every line has eight syllables, the construction appears labored and planned.
Relatively similar in theme, “Meditation in Hydrotherapy”, explains the narrator’s treatment for his depression, leaning toward suicidal tendencies. Lines five and six, “This water, heated like my blood,/Refits me for the true and good…” (248) lea...

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Recurring Themes in the Poetry of Theodore Roethke. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 18:43, May 25, 2016, from