Recurring Themes in the Poetry of Theodore Roethke

Length: 3 Pages 708 Words

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) Continue...


In any event, a definite pattern is present in the voice or tone of the two poems. Lines five and six, "This water, heated like my blood,Refits me for the true and good... (248) lead one to believe that hydrotherapy treatment will somehow repair him. One can note which nouns the adjectives are describing by tracing back the source line from its soon to follow couplet. Also like "Epidermal Macabre, "Meditation in Hydrotherapy uses the AA BB couplet to express the personality of his speaker. One can either empathize, or separate with or from the narrator's cognitions. It can be read either in a solemn, serious way, or in a familiar cliche sing-song rhythm. Nearly every line has eight syllables, the construction appears labored and planned. Rhyme scheme adds to this work by bringing forth a formal element to tie each set of ideas together. By confessing his innermost opinions on the flaws of his person, the narrator is also informing the readers of his damaged mindset. The result is a visually broken sequence, perhaps reflecting the brokenness the narrator feels about his mental and physical state. Destroying the integrity of his body, the he refers to his skin as an "unseemly epidermal dress. By utilizing words like "sweating, Roethke alludes to the idea of sweat as a ritual cleansing. In one respect, the speaker is unconcerned with his appearance, but more plagued by his lack of emotion, or his numbness. Depending on the reader and their own relationship with their bodies, either interpretation is entirely valid on an individual basis.