I Am! Says the Lamb Analysis
The poems in the first section address the beginners, who, like Roethke himself, are charmed by the experience of worldly things, yet aroused, often intimidated by them. Roethke empathizes with the child’s fears and confusions while feeling the child’s awe that accompanies the confrontations. The child’s view also offers a metaphor of the grownup’s compulsion to explore the mysteries of the world, especially of nature. The child never leaves the adult, and the more astute, more adventurous adult returns from time to time to the viewpoint of the child for fresh discoveries.
The varied subjects of the second half of I Am! Says the Lamb—flowers, fungus, the poet’s father, the greenhouse and its crew of three ladies, and the swampy soil—challenge the poet to explore nature’s myriad manifestations and celebrate them. Many of the images in the later poems are of digging down to the roots of nature, into the soil, scraping off fungus, unearthing the tendrils that flower into orchids; the imagery reflects the poet’s urge to dig into the heart of nature itself, dig through objects into their unseen and unseeable spirit. The poet’s aim is to discover the source of beauty, the source of life. Mingling is an important part of that process, mingling with the soil as if the poet, in being close to the earth, could somehow take on some of its creative power. As a whole, the poems stand as evidence of the creative urge, perhaps of its success.
Critics have said that Roethke’s poetry probes the unconscious level of experience in search of archetypal patterns. If this interpretation is correct, these poems may be viewed as expressions of the poet’s desire to discover manifestations of nature and the natural processes, a pattern of birth and death, of nurture and dependence, of emerging and receding. For the poet, foraging for sustenance by digging up the earth is but a physical corollary to the intellectual and spiritual probing of physical experience. It may also reflect the poet’s intellectual probing of the spiritual world that encloses the mystery of life, giving it existence and sustenance.
For Roethke, nature holds the magical power of generation, the creation of being. Flowers, plants, fungus—these are the objective forms of the metaphysical process of birth and...
(The entire section is 583 words.)