ABOUT THEODORE ROETHKE
Theodore Roethke ranks among the greatest American poets of the 20th Century and was a major influence on his peers and a generation of writers that followed. The video above, "In a Dark Time," is a magnificent insight into the poet and his work and a must-see for anyone with an interest in Roethke.
Former U.S. Poet Laureate and author James Dickey wrote Roethke was: "...in my opinion the greatest poet this country has yet produced." In 2012, he was featured on a United States postage stamp as one of ten great American poets. Among his many honors, Roethke received the Pulitzer Prize and twice the National Book Award.
He was born in 1908 in Saginaw, Michigan and grew up in the house now preserved as The Theodore Roethke Home Museum.
The house at 1805 Gratiot Avenue was built around 1911 for Theodore’s parents, Otto and Helen Roethke. Otto's brother Carl lived in the adjacent fieldstone house, which will become the Carl Roethke Development Center when funds allow. Together, the brothers managed the William Roethke Floral Company, founded in the 1880s by their Prussian immigrant father. The company's extensive greenhouses once stood on the land behind these two houses.
Theodore worked in the greenhouses with his father and his childhood experiences with the family’s Saginaw floral company inspired many of his poems. As he wrote, the greenhouse "is my symbol for the whole of life, a womb, a heaven-on-earth."
Roethke attended John Moore Elementary School and graduated from Arthur Hill High School in Saginaw. He entered the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, graduatedmagna cum laudein1929, and later completed an M.A. in Literature. 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’s first collection of poems, Open House, was published in 1941 to wide acclaim. Roethke was a master stylist of both free verse and fixed forms. Many of his poems are intensely lyrical and draw from the natural world in all its mystery and fierce beauty. In 1954, Roethke received the Pulitzer Prize for The Waking. He also received two National Book Awards, and the prestigious Bollingen Prize from Yale in 1959.
In her 2006 book, "Break, Blow, Burn: Forty-three of the World's Best Poems," critic Camille Paglia includes three Roethke poems, more than any other 20th Century writer cited in the book.
Roethke is widely regarded as the one of the greatest poetry teachers the country has produced. Many of his students who went to to become award-winning poets in their own right credit Roethke's influence.
The poet died in Washington state in 1963 at age 55. His remains are interred in Saginaw's Oakwood Cemetery.
Those interested in reading more about Roethke's life are encouarged to read, "The Glass House, The Life of Theodore Roethke" by Allan Seager.