Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke

1908 - 1963

Theodore Roethke owed much to the mystics of the Anglo-Celtic tradition such as Blake, Yeats, and Auden. Roethke in turn exerted a significant influence on artists of the 1940's and 1950's generations. Not only did a poet like Sylvia Plath find inspiration in Roethke's work, but a number of American composers, among them Samuel Barber and Ned Rorem, found the lyricism of his verse excellent material for song settings.


Born on May 25, 1908 in Michigan and educated there, Roethke went on to Harvard before pursuing an academic career at various American universities. His first volume of verse, Open House (1941), initiated his hallmark use of plant imagery as a symbol for human flowering and decay. He followed this with autobiographical verse in The Lost Son, and Other Poems (1948) and Praise to the End! (1951), which showed him embracing the visionary style of Yeats. “The Waking” won the poet the Pulitzer Prize in 1954, while the Bollingen Prize-winning Words for the Wind is probably his best known work. After Roethke’s death in 1963 the remainder of his verse, letters, and essays were published posthumously, and a Collected Edition of the poems appeared in 1975.

--Thomas Hampson and Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold, PBS I Hear America Singing

Photo: Academy of American Poets

Songs & Song Collections BY Roethke (entered to date)

Audio PLaylist