Theodore Roethke, Pantheist
Piersall, Gloria Merritt
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To this writer, there appears to be a definite pattern of implied pantheism in Roethke's early poems, a pattern more obviously developed in the middle poems, and even more fully expressed or implied in the later poems, including those published after his death. And so, in an attempt to prove that Roethke's poetry is pantheistic, this thesis first contrasts his views on nature with those of two other American poets, Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot. Both Frost--enjoying nature but distrustful of it, and Eliot--convinced of the essential hostility of nature toward man and, above all, feeling modern man to be alienated from the natural world--provide a backdrop against which Roethke's rapturous and painful journey into nature and his growing tendency toward pantheism are more clearly viewed. The methodology of this thesis consists of 1) furnishing germane opinions of such Roethke critics as make even passing reference to his pantheistic leanings but especially of 2) analyzing in depth several representative poems from each of three stages of his poetic development: the 1941-1958 collection, Words for the Wind, The Far Field poems, published in 1964, ana finally, portions of Straw for the Fire, published in 1972, but representing some twenty years of poetic development. The analysis of these poems consists of an evaluation of various aspects of them such as imagery, sound effects, rhythmic pattern rhyme, if any--to determine how the fore-going contribute to the quality of Roethke's pantheism. Naturally, the content of each poem is the primary concern because the writer believes that a consideration of that content shows a definite pattern of pantheism which developed in Roethke's poetry through the years. The conclusion of the thesis includes a survey of recent critical views of the poetry that acknowledge even briefly the pantheism of Roethke, also a summary of the writer's reasons for believing that it is the poems themselves that offer the strongest evidence of that pantheism. These reasons for belief in his pantheism include the discernible pattern of his turning away from depression toward a belief in the One, the Light beyond light; his continual catalogues of the 'lovely diminutives;' his unique imagery, highly evocative and symbolic; the poet's strong belief in the compassionate source within nature; his reverence for all of nature--even the strange and the ugly; a deep yearning toward what he thinks that 'littles' represent. And surely the most powerful argument of all for the pantheistic view of his poetry is based on the thoughts that he voices through the imagery, the statements or affirmations of the Roethke who believes in something beyond his finite self. 'I'm more than when I was born;/ I could say hello to things,/ I could talk to a snail;/ I see what sings!/ A lively understandable spirit/ Once entertained you./ It will come again./Be still./ Wait.'
81 leaves. Advisor: Dr. Edward Mayo