It used to be a commonplace in discussion of the poetry of Theodore Roethke to emphasize the variety, the differences between his work as he passed through various “phases.” It is true that there is variety and there are differences at every stage of his work as he matured as a poet. Now that he is gone, however, and now that it is possible to look at his work as a whole, it is surprising how much of his future work, his interests and the directions he would later explore, veins that he would later mine, is indicated in OPEN HOUSE, mostly written during the decade preceding World War II. (It is to be remembered that though Roethke was often grouped with Richard Wilbur and Robert Lowell as one of the three leading poets of his generation, he was, in fact, ten years older than both of these poets and a good deal behind them in receiving an equivalent critical recognition). It was and is easy to be deceived by the poems of OPEN HOUSE. They are short, quiet, rather plainly and strictly formal, evidently subdued and modest. Their artistry is understated, and they blithely ignore some of the critical fiats prevalent at the time. They have a kind of hewn and carved simplicity, with minimal attention paid to the intellectual ambiguity, the forms of irony and wit, which were becoming fashionable. They make frequent and familiar use of abstractions, which had become the equivalent of dirty words to poets and critics who took their standards of judgment at...
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