Existential elements in the poetry of Theodore Roethke
Master of Arts
SubjectExistentialism in literature
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This study is an attempt to illustrate, through a chronological reading of The Collected Poems, the existential elements in the poetry of Theodore Roethke (1908 - 1963). Though he was by no means a rigorous philosopher, Roethke's particular responses to human life in the 20th century constitute a meaningful and unigue philosophy of existence. These particular responses are bound up in Roethke*s language, his dominant images, and his primary thematic concerns. The intent of this study is to examine these responses in light of the general concerns of existentialism in order to ascertain to what degree Roethke can be considered an existential poet. Existentialism is commonly accepted to be the philosophy of influence in the 20th century. All artists of this era, therefore, demonstrate a growing concern for the meaning of their personal existences. To examine the language, images, and thematic concerns of Roethke*s poetry in light of a generally accepted definition of existentialism is to discover what makes him more blatantly existential than many of his contemporaries. For the purpose of clarity, I shall use the term "existentialism” to denote only the most general characteristics of the doctrine.