Root Cellar Summary

Root Cellar by Theodore Roethke is a poem about a place that is dark and dank, but also full of life. The root cellar is a place where things grow and where life is hidden away from the light. This poem speaks to the hidden parts of ourselves, the parts that are dark and mysterious, but also full of potential. The root cellar is a place of transformation, and in this poem, Roethke shows us that even in the darkest places, there is still hope for growth and change.

Theodore Roethke was born in Michigan, where the landscape is dotted with lakes, streams, and rivers. This environment provided Roethke a “mystical devotion to nature,” (McMichael, 1615) as well as allowing him to convert a repulsive image into natural grandeur.

Theodore Roethke’s poem “Root Cellar” is a good illustration of this. The poem depicts a cellar that most people would consider dreary and frightening. Rather than giving it an indication that it is awake, Roethke gives the dungeon life and enchantment. The first line implies that the cave is conscious.

“Something ugly and wrong.” (Roethke, 1) The word “something” suggests that the cellar is a living, breathing creature. It also has feelings. It knows that it isn’t pretty, but it doesn’t care. The second line dives into the darkness of the root cellar with “black as night.” (Roethke, 2)

This image is important because it sets the stage for the following lines. In the third line, Roethke asks a rhetorical question, “What odors haunt this place?” (Roethke 3) The reader can imagine the smell of rotting vegetables and damp earth seeping through the cracks in the walls. These smells are not pleasant, but they are natural. They are the smells of life and death.

The fourth line introduces the idea of transformation. “Putrefaction is a process…” (Roethke 4) This line is significant because it shows that the root cellar is not just a place for things to rot. It is also a place where new life is created. The Root Cellar is a place of rebirth and growth. In the fifth line, Roethke compares the Root Cellar to a womb. “…it fertilizes the imagination” (Roethke 5) This comparison is powerful because it shows that the Root Cellar is a place of creativity and new ideas. It is a place where the imagination can run wild.

The final line of the poem is the most striking. “Not a bad place to hide a body.” (Roethke 6) This line could be interpreted in many ways. It could be seen as a comment on the cycle of life and death. It could also be seen as a comment on the Root Cellar’s ability to transform something ugly into something beautiful. No matter how it is interpreted, this line is sure to leave a lasting impression on the reader.

Root Cellar is a dark and mysterious poem that will leave the reader thinking long after they have finished reading it. Roethke’s use of language and imagery creates a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. The Root Cellar is brought to life and given a personality of its own. It is a place of death and decay, but also a place of new life and growth. This poem is sure to stick with the reader long after they have finished reading it.

In the second line, several plants are depicted in several boxes seeking for a little of light to assist them survive. The roots of the plants hanging from the containers that are packed into the restricted area are shown in the third, fourth, and fifth lines.

In the sixth stanza, the odor of the basement is addressed. The deterioration of the roots is described in the seventh line. The stems of the plants are depicted in the eighth sentence, giving them additional depth. The ninth line depicts how slippery the floor was. In addition, the tenth and eleventh lines describe how everything in the cellar was fighting to hang on to their existence as long as possible.

The twelfth line gives the cellar a voice. The thirteenth line is the final image of the poem and it leaves the reader with a feeling of awe. Theodore Roethke’s poem “Root Cellar” is a great example of how to use descriptive language to create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. The poem takes the reader on a journey through the Root Cellar, describing all of the sights, smells and sounds that one would experience if they were to visit such a place.

By using sensory images, Roethke is able to transport the reader into the Root Cellar, making them feel as though they are standing there among the plants and roots. This allows the reader to get a better understanding of the Root Cellar and what it is like for the plants that are forced to live there.

Roethke’s ability to create imagery in this poem allows the reader to visualize everything in the cellar. Roethke employs a variety of literary styles to construct his images. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that usually denotes one thing is utilized to designate another, implying a comparison. Metaphors and similes are interwoven throughout this poem. 

Root Cellars are places that are known to be spooky, musty, and humid. These adjectives alone can create a mental image for the reader, but when used in conjunction with metaphors and similes, the reader is able to see a much clearer picture.

For example, Roethke writes “it smelled like mushrooms” (4) giving the reader the image of a cellar that smells earthy and dank. He also uses metaphor when he compares the roots in the cellar to “great grubs” (7). This comparison not only creates an image of large creepy bugs, but also gives the root vegetables a more menacing quality. By using literary devices like these, Theodore Roethke is able to create a vivid image of the Root Cellar that allows the reader to experience the poem on a more sensory level.

In conclusion, Theodore Roethke’s Root Cellar is an excellent example of how figurative language can be used to create vivid imagery. Through the use of metaphors and similes, Roethke is able to take the reader on a journey through the Root Cellar, allowing them to experience all of the sights, smells, and sounds that he did.

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