Saturday, 16 January 2010

Theodore Roethke

In A Dark Time

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks--is it a cave,
Or a winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is--
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

Theodore Roethke 1908-1963

Photo by Danny Wilcox Frazier / Redux for TIME

Hmm.... Came across this for the first time tonight and can't quite make up my mind about it.
Yes.....this IS what I do with my Saturday nights!
Deep insight gained through suffering?...... or petulant superiority complex?
Answers on a postcard please.....


  1. Well, it's a very personal poem, and one of his most powerful, informed by Roethke's own journey through mental illness and despair. He views his breakdown - a complete stripping of the psyche - as the only way to find true Self...and, ultimately, Truth. 'In a dark time, the eye begins to see.' Painfully true. I particularly like the line: 'What's madness but nobility of soul/At odds with circumstance?' I am reminded of Sheena Blackhall's poem, Existentialist...

    'Where do I live?
    In the space between Monday and Sunday
    In the retina of the crow's eye.
    I am a skin of prickles under a blue balloon

    Always, the salt spills. The cupboard's shadows
    Fall across the floor.'

    btw, there are worst ways to spend a Saturday night, Neil. ;D

  2. ty for that Lizzie. I like Sheena Blackhall's poem. I get the feeling from it that she's a Sylvia Plath fan... 'I am a skin of prickles under a blue balloon'. And the reference to the crow....
    I read her notes on the poem. Interesting, they put it all into context.
    'Always, the salt spills'..... My mother instilled the throwing of spilt salt over my shoulder too, but I never realised I was throwing it into the Devil's eyes.
    The effect of a good Calvinist upbringing eh?

  3. I am not one but two
    I am not two but four
    I am not four but many
    And sometimes I am not any.
    ~M. Wadsworth
    I first read that little poem in a book called Called Them Canadians in 1967. It has stuck with me since then and is often relevant.