Theodore Huebner Roethke

By Jaquan Horton

Theodore Huebner Roethke was born May 25, 1908 in Saginaw, Michigan and grew up on the west side of Saginaw River. His Father Otto, was a German immigrant, a market-gardener who own a large local 25 acre greenhouse along with his brother Much of Theodore's childhood was spent in this greenhouse, as reflected by the use of natural images in his poetry. The poet's adolescent years were jarred, however, by his uncle's suicide and by the death of his father from cancer, both in early 1923, when Theodore (Ted) was only 14. These deaths shaped Roethke's psyche and creative life.

Roethke responded powerfully to the confinement of nature, he later even wrote, “They were to me both heaven and hell, a kind of tropics created in the savage climate of Michigan, where austere German Americans turned their love of order and their terrifying efficiency into something beautiful.” However, his profound creativity was not appreciated or well-recognized by the man’s man his father was, and Roethke felt the pull of society’s expectations of him: be a strong man, calloused hands, and a heart unaffected by the “simple things” of the world.

In 1959 Pennsylvania University awarded him the Bollingen Prize. Roethke taught at Michigan State College, (present-day Michigan State University) and at colleges in Pennsylvania and Vermont, before joining the faculty of the University of Washington at Seattle in 1947. Roethke died in Washington in 1963. His remains are interred in Saginaw's Oakwood Cemetery.The whiskey on your breath

Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

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