Friday, October 19, 2007

Oyster River

There is a movement toward spiritual unity in Theodore Roethke's "Meditation at Oyster River."

There is a tension in the poem between disunity/unity, and there also is a fear of death being expressed in the poem.

The poem is Whitmanesque for me in the way opposites come together, such as here: "A twilight wind, light as a child's breath / Turning not a leaf, not a ripple. / The dew revives on the beach-grass; / The salt-soaked wood of the fire crackles; / A fish raven turns on its perch (a dead tree in the rivermouth), / Its wings catching a last glint of the reflected sunlight."

The image of twilight (endings) juxtaposed with that ofchildhood (beginnings), the fish raven (fish = infinity or God) with the dead tree. The wings of the raven catching the "last glint" of reflected sunlight.

While this juxtaposition of opposites is Whitmanesque, Roethke is not nearly so optimistic as Whitman. There is something malevolent in nature, in the life force, and life is tinged by the inevitability of death:

In the next stanza, Roethke says:

"The self persists like a dying star, / In sleep, afriad. Death's face rises afresh, / Among the shy beasts..." and then the tide comes in, "tongues of water, creeping in, quietly." This is where a transformation occurs.

I deeply appreciate: "In this hour, / In this first heaven of knowing..."We understand Roethke is reaching his "paradise," his moment of unity.

Even better are the lines: "I rise and fall, and time folds / Into a long moment; / And I hear the lichen speak, / And the ivy advance with its white lizard feet-- / On the shimmering road, / On the dusty detour."

Talk about permeable boundaries.

The last two stanzas can be contrasted to Eliot's "The Waste Land" quite neatly. Eliot's landscape is dry; Roethke's is wet, and water equals life. Roethke even says: "Water's my will, and my way, / And the spirit runs, intermittently, / In and out of the small waves, Runs with the intrepid shorebirds--"

Yet something dark remains: "How graceful the small before danger!"

1 comment:

ggw07 said...

Brilliant uplifting stuff from Roethke. Thanks much.



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"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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