26 November 2011
Roles of Literary Elements in Root Cellar
Theodore Roethke is a writer that had to go through many hardships throughout his life, but where he dealt with his hardships would eventually lead him to write some of the most successful and inspirational poetry such as Root Cellar (Balakian 4). As Peter Balakian says in Theodore Roethke's Far Fields: The Evolution of His Poetry, “His father’s twenty-five acres of greenhouses in the Saginaw Valley and the hothouse world of peat moss, plant cuttings, carnations, roses, cyclamen, and compost organisms was the loamy place out of which he would shape his mind and delve into his psychic and familial past.” This quote shows that plant life and gardening had much meaning to Theodore Roethke. Overall, Theodore Roethke’s use of imagery and personification in Root Cellar gives society a different way to look at life.
In “Root Cellar”, the large amount of imagery allows readers to build their senses in order to understand the true meaning of this poem. At the beginning of the poem, it starts out by saying, “Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch” ("Famous Poets and poems"). Usually when people imagine a cellar, they think about a dark and lifeless room that is usually creepy, but for Theodore Roethke it is seen differently. As the poem continues, it eventually says, “Shoots dangled and drooped, / Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates, / Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes” ("Famous Poets and poems"). This lets the reader form a view of new plant life that is growing wild from a moist and moldy source. Through the next few lines, the author continues to provide excellent imagery by combining the mental image that the reader forms, and the sense of smell. In the poem it states, “Roots ripe as old bait, / Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich, / Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks” ("Famous Poets and poems"). From this, the reader should feel as if they are practically in this cellar. This combination of imagery and smell almost makes the reader feel dirty until the last two lines of the poem are read. With that being said, at the end of the poem it takes a twist by saying, “Nothing would give up life: / Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath” ("Famous Poets and poems"). This point in the poem is not only the most significant, but it also allows the reader to envision a beat down life that does not give up. All of this imagery throughout this poem probably could be used to represent Theodore Roethke’s emotional life. From a young age, Theodore Roethke was not only unfortunate enough to deal with the death of his father, but he also had to deal with manic depression in his later life (Balakian 4). Based on this poem, it is easy to have a negative image pictured mentally as the reader goes through the poem, but once the reader makes it to the last two lines all of the negativity is turned positive. Theodore Roethke most likely wanted he readers to understand no matter how much life gets someone down and when the future seems hopeless, just keep on moving because life is worth living. Overall, Theodore Roethke’s use of imagery in Root Cellar allows the reader to see life from a different perspective.
Within Theodore Roethke’s literary work, his use of personification also represents his life in a way. When the poem says, “Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch, / Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,” this not only gives the life and bulbs human qualities by using the words “hunting” and “sleep”, but is also represents Theodore Roethke because he would not give up life and continued to hunt for the smallest openings in life in order to make himself feel better (McRoberts). Another area of this poem that personification is used is at the end of the poem when it says, “Nothing would give up life: / Even the dirt kept breathing a...
Cited: Balakian, Peter. Theodore Rothke. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999. Print.
McRoberts , Patrick. "History Link: The Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State
History." Roethke, Theodore (1908-1963). Seattle: History Link, 2003. Web. 18 Nov 2011. .
"Theodore Roethke Poems." Famous Poets and poems. USPS, Saint Lucia, n.d. Web. 18
Nov 2011. .
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