"I Knew a Woman" by Theodore Roethke
Theodore Roethke wrote of the beauty of a woman and how she captivated a man in his poem "I Knew a Woman." Roethke describes a sexual attraction radiating from the man towards the woman that eventually is explored. Who the man is to the women is never revealed but one may interpret him as someone who didn't get to spend his life with this woman but rather had a beautiful love affair with her long ago and is now reminiscing.
Roethke's opening verse is arresting in it's artful refutation of the cliche about beauty being "only skin deep." "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)."
The verb of line one is intended to be interpreted in the biblical sense of carnal knowledge as well as simple acquaintance. "Lovely in her bones" is a phrase so compressed that it requires extended translation. The speaker is making a point to say that her loveliness was both exterior and interior, of structural quality rather than a mere facade. Line two indicates her somewhat empathetic relationship with nature. It is a slight pause before the mind-stopping line describing her movements. Various denotations of movement are soon to be played upon but the first suggestion is that her lovely bones in motion are an emotionally moving sight to behold. One can sense a smile on the speakers face when he says "shapes a bright container can contain." The word "can" is used here as a verb, not a noun describing a metal container that cannot change shape. Rather, the "container" is the woman's flesh within which her bones are located and are capable of graceful movement and shape change. The ensuing mention of gods and English...
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