Theodore Roethke (Theodore Huebner Roethke) Biography
(1908–63), (Theodore Huebner Roethke), Open House, The Lost Son, Praise to the End!, The Waking
American poet, born in Saginaw, Michigan, where his father, a wholesale florist, owned the greenhouses which became a major source of imagery in Roethke's poetry. Educated at the University of Michigan, he began his academic career in 1931 at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and was Professor of English at the University of Washington from 1948 until his sudden death in 1963. His first collection, Open House (1941), displayed a lyrical concentration that anticipated the psychological intensity of later work. Radical stylistic advances in The Lost Son (1948) established disciplined free verse as the characteristic form of his verse. The volume included the first of his poems to use memories of the fecundity and decay in the greenhouses of his childhood as a medium for exploring the underlying structures of consciousness. Praise to the End! (1951) displayed the increasingly visionary aspect of his concern with the nature of individual identity. The Waking (1953; Pulitzer Prize) and Words for the Wind (1958) contain verse from preceding volumes with hitherto uncollected material. The last collection to be published in his lifetime, I Am! Says the Lamb (1961), featured poetry of childlike simplicity charged with symbolic and mystical implication. The Far Field (1964), arguably his most impressive collection, maintained a poised balance between elegy and celebration in its imaginatively expansive responses to the natural world. Collected Poems (1966) shows the range of Roethke's œuvre, in which many ebulliently humorous poems complement the gravity of much of his best-known writing. On the Poet and His Craft (1965), a selection of his criticism, and Selected Letters of Theodore Roethke (1968) are edited by Ralph J. Mills Jr; Straw for the Fire (edited by D. Waggoner, 1972) is a collection of extracts from his voluminous notebooks. The fullest of several biographies of Roethke is The Glass House (1968) by Alan Seager.