What does the following quotation from Theodore Roethke's "I Knew a Woman" mean?"Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,Or English...

What does the following quotation from Theodore Roethke's "I Knew a Woman" mean?

"Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,

Or English poets who grew up on Greek

(I’d have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek)." 

Expert Answers
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The quotation is from Theodore Roethke's poem "I Knew a Woman." The poem starts by invoking the typical tropes of romantic love poetry. 

The first typical trope of the genre is what is sometimes called a "humility topos," in which the narrator apologizes for his own ability to rise to his subject, suggesting that only gods or the great poets of an earlier era could possibly do justice to the task of describing the woman's virtues. 

He uses a heroic couplet to start:

Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,

Or English poets who grew up on Greek

This particular couplet emulates the mock-heroic style of Alexander Pope (who translated the Iliad and was an English poet) in The Rape of the Lock or Byron in Don Juan, making what appears to be an epic statement in the first line of the couplet and then undermining it with a trivial parallel in the second line. 

The poet imagines that all the great poets and Greek gods should sing together in a chorus to do an adequate job of praising the women he is describing. 

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