The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Elegy for Jane,” subtitled “My Student, Thrown by a Horse,” is a poem in free verse whose twenty-two lines are divided into four stanzas. The poem follows the elegiac tradition insofar as it mourns the death of a loved one. The first nine lines follow the custom of honoring the deceased by describing Jane’s delicacy and youthful exuberance. Roethke describes Jane as a light, quick animal, the epitome of the lovely in nature. Her neck curls are damp as plant tendrils, trailing, winding, and new. Quick and nervous in her movements, Jane’s smile was nonetheless wide as a fish’s (“pickerel”). Jane was also shy, for she had to be startled into talking. Once she started talking, however, she showed that she delighted in her thoughts. These lines may be alluding to Roethke’s calling on her in class and her corresponding pleasure in answering.

When she was happy, Jane was like a bird with its tail in the wind; her song was so energetic that small branches trembled. The courage and adventurousness that cause a tail to be immersed in wind imply a daring that might have resulted in Jane’s being thrown to her death by a horse. Jane’s vitality was so inspiring that all nature rejoiced in her exuberance, even gloomy natural items such as shade and mold. Jane’s happiness was so beneficent that the leaves turned to kissing.

The following stanza states that when Jane was sad, she plunged from a joy that even shade and mold reflected...

(The entire section is 524 words.)