Root Cellar Poem

Roethke’s poem “Root Cellar” is about Theodore Roethke’s place of birth, Saginaw County in Michigan. It was an agricultural community that included orchards, cornfields, apple trees and root cellars. The poem recalls the sounds, scents and feel of the root cellar including its coolness in summer time, the vegetables growing on hooks from the ceiling and decayed wood. The poet describes his childhood memory of playing with “A thin blue dragon-fly” experiencing freedom until he heard footsteps approaching the back porch where he had entered through a window.

The speaker suggests that it might be their father who will punish them for being disobeying his orders not to go near the root cellar because it contains dangerous rodents. Theodore Roethke conveys the fear of his childhood in the poem, using imagery to evoke a sense of nervousness and excitement that can be felt when one is playing outside and then hears footsteps approaching them because they were disobeying their parents. The poem, “Root Cellar”, was first published in Theodore Roethke’s book, The Lost Son and Other Poems (1948).

Theodore Roethke writes about real people and places from his past including memories of his childhood growing up on a farm in Saginaw County, Michigan. Theodore Roethke received many awards for his work such as Pulitzer Prize for this volume The Lost Son and Other Poems , Library of Congress Award, Guggenheim fellowship, Bollingen fellowship and the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Award in 1980. Theodore Roethke died in 1963 in Seattle, Washington at the age of 55. The poem “Root Cellar” has three stanzas with each containing four lines except for the last stanza which only contains two lines.

Theodore Roethke uses mostly rhyming words such as “ roofs” and “hoofs” but does not end every line with a rhyme word. The poem also has an A B C D (stanza 1) ABCB (stanza 2) AABB (stanzas 3-4) structure, where A is always one sentence or clause; B is always a supporting phrase; and C and D are always single words. There is one line with an incomplete sentence or clause which leaves the reader to wonder or imagine what Theodore Roethke’s father was about to say: “So you’d like some, would you? ” (line 5-8).

Theodore Roethke starts off the poem with the word “This” as if he means to begin talking about different things but then alludes back to something from his past such as this farmhouse and root cellar (lines 3-4) . One interesting literary technique Theodore Roethke uses in “Root Cellar” is personification where he describes vegetables growing on hangers from the ceiling of his memory of playing around in his root cellar and the poem ends with Theodore Roethke referring to himself in third person: “But he did not stop running” (line 21-28).

Theodore Roethke uses the word “did” instead of “doesn’t” which indicates that Theodore Roethke is still scared of getting caught today. Theodore Roethke also refers to his childhood memory as a child would such as using words like “stop…running” (lines 24-25), and then talks about it in third person at the end of the poem: This poem was written while Theodore Roethke was teaching at Stanford University. During this time, Theodore Roethke wrote many poems while living on a farm in California where Theodore Roethke was able to imagine the past as well as be surrounded by nature which influenced Theodore Roethke’s work.

Theodore Roethke begins his poem, Root Cellar, with the line “This is a root cellar” suggesting that Theodore Roethke wants us to know from the beginning that this is not just some ordinary place but a place of significance. Theodore Roethke also references a farmhouse and his childhood memories of playing around inside a root cellar on a summer day. Theodore Roethke even uses vivid imagery such as describing vegetables hanging from the ceiling and decayed wood throughout this outer-worldly room creating an image more perfect than words can describe or recreate in one’s mind.

Theodore Roethke brings up the root cellar to talk about his childhood and what he would do when he wasn’t following his parents’ rules, “When I was bad…” Theodore Roethke uses repetition words such as “running” and “caught” to express himself not only through imagery but also through sound. Theodore Roethke feels like this room in the poem is a place where nothing else matters except for what’s going on in that moment, giving Theodore Roethke a sense of security and protection from all the people and things that could hurt him out in the real world. Theodore Roethke ends his poem by saying: “So you’d like some, would you?

Well, you can’t have any. ” Theodore Roethke seems to feel like we should leave him and all the memories he has inside this root cellar alone and not try to go beyond Theodore Roethke’s comfort zone by invading his childhood place of solitude. Theodore Roethke explores the theme of childhood memory and fear through the usage of vivid imagery throughout “Root Cellar. ” Theodore Roethke also uses personification when he describes vegetables hanging from the ceiling as if they were children playing around or trying to be mischievous like Theodore Roethke was as a kid.

On the surface, Theodore Roethke’s poem “Root Cellar” seems to be mainly about himself and his childhood memories. Along with that, the poem also has an undercurrent of something dark; however, it is unclear what that may be.

In this poem, Theodore Roethke depicts a memory from his childhood of his father leading him into the root cellar. Theodore Roethke specifically times the poem to the season in which this memory is set – autumn, when things are dying or already dying. When Theodore Roethke revisits the memory of his father taking him into the root cellar, he initially does not want to go back there; however, Theodore Roethke willingly returns to his memories of getting lost “among nets and barrels” (line 21).

Theodore Roethke connects himself with plants by describing himself as “a green shoot” (line 3) and calling his father a gardener (lines 16-17), but also depicts himself as dangerous like roots that produce poison (lines 5-6). The darkness Theodore Roethke alludes to is likely his own self-destructive nature.

In Theodore Roethke’s poem “Root Cellar,” we see how he uses memory and the past to make sense of himself in present day; one can also argue Theodore Roethke uses this poem as a coping mechanism for whatever guilt he has with respect to the root cellar and his father.

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