Form and Content

The twenty-two poems in the first section of I Am! Says the Lamb, entitled “The Nonsense Poems,” address younger children in ways that appeal to minds free of conventional restrictions, filled with wonder, and charmed by the play of sounds, rhythms, and meanings. They are accompanied by drawings as playful as the verses in their depiction of the poet’s subjects, such as a Kitty-Cat Bird and Myrtle the Turtle. Through these characters, the adult world is explored, transformed by nonsense and the magic of language into objects of delight for children.

Theodore Roethke applies the principle that in foolishness, there is an element of divinity, in topsy-turvy an element of truth—or, as Emily Dickinson put it, “Much madness is divinest sense/ To a discerning eye.” The poems assume that the young reader (or, better, listener) possesses the discernment necessary to see that the adult world makes sense often, perhaps only, when it is viewed madly. The adult, unless a poet, forgets that a simple chair is animated by a power that enables it to disappear. Its existence is proven (or discovered) empirically: “To know a Chair is really it,/ You sometimes have to go and sit.” Adults impose order and meaning on the world, see it as “out there,” whereas the poems in this first part of the book posit the notion that children see in a continuum, assuming that other creatures and things are mere extensions of themselves, their feelings and their view of the world. The poems capture the obverse of this view as well, see the world “out there” filled...

(The entire section is 644 words.)


Bloom, Harold, ed. Theodore Roethke. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Bogen, Don. Theodore Roethke and the Writing Process. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1991.

Bowers, Neal. Theodore Roethke: The Journey from I to Otherwise. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1982.

Kalaidjian, Walter B. Understanding Theodore Roethke. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987.

Kusch, Robert. My Toughest Mentor: Theodore Roethke and William Carlos Williams (1940-1948). Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1999.

Malkoff, Karl. Theodore Roethke: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966.

Seager, Allan. The Glass House: The Life of Theodore Roethke. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.

Stiffler, Randall. Theodore Roethke: The Poet and His Critics. Chicago: American Library Association, 1986.

Wolff, George. Theodore Roethke. Boston: Twayne, 1981.