Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Knew A Woman - T. Roethke

There is a consensus that Theodore Roethke is in the first rank of 20th Century American poets with a distinct, brilliant voice that fused mastery of language with complexity of thought/imagery and passion.  When he is in his stride, his poems are as good as a poem can get on whatever its subject.  (He is also a tragic figure, committing suicide in 1963 at the age of 55.)    

This one is one of his most anthologized and best known.  I love its physicality: in the erotic suggestiveness, the movement of and in the description of the body.  And all of it infused with love, laughter, humor and passion.  The last two lines are just so beautiful, rich, and unforgettable as they bring it all together.

I Knew A Woman

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I'd have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek).

How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and stand;
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin:
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing did we make).

Love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize;
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved).

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:
I'm martyr to a motion not my own;
What's freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways).

Theodore  Roethke - American

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Theodore Roethke did not commit suicide. He died of a heart attack while swimming.