Theodore Roethke

By: Wafaa Iraqui

The life of Theodore Rothke

He was born Theodore Huebner Roethke in Saginaw, Michigan, the son of Otto Roethke and Helen Huebner, owners of a local greenhouse.The poet's adolescent years were jarred, however, by the death of his father from cancer in 1923, a loss that would powerfully shape Roethke's psychic and creative lives. From 1925 to 1929 Roethke distinguished himself at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, graduating magna cum laude. Resisting family pressure to pursue a legal career, he quit law school after one semester and, from 1929 to 1931, took graduate courses at the University of Michigan and later the Harvard Graduate School, where he worked closely with the poet Robert Hillyer.

The hard economic times of the Great Depression forced Roethke to leave Harvard and to take up a teaching career at Lafayette College from 1931 to 1935. Here he met Rolfe Humphries, who introduced him to Louise Bogan; during these years Roethke also found a powerful supporter, colleague, and friend in the poet Stanley Kunitz. In the fall of 1935 Roethke assumed his second teaching post at Michigan State College at Lansing but was soon hospitalized for what would prove to be recurring bouts of mental illness. Throughout his subsequent career Roethke used these periodic incidents of depression for creative self-exploration. They allowed him, as he said, to "reach a new level of reality."

5 Poems by Theodore Roethke