“The Far Field” is the title poem of Theodore Roethke’s posthumously published 1964 collection. Like the other five poems in his “North American sequence,” “The Far Field” is a visionary poem about how meditation itself can help individuals transcend their fears about mortality. “The Far Field” is written in free verse, which is undulating lines of various lengths with no set regular metrical or rhyme patterns; it is divided into four unequal sections.
Part 1 starts with an archetypal dream sequence about journeys toward death. This bleak car journey begins in a nocturnal snowstorm on a deserted, snow-laden road and ends with the car stalled in a snowdrift until its lights and batteries give out; it presents a scene of desolation and human isolation in an implacable and cold universe. The cold fear of death is a kind of “problem” the narrator confronts starkly. In the remaining three sections of the poem, the narrator “solves” his problem by meditating until his fear disappears and he reaches a peaceful state of mind.
He begins his “solution” in part 2. First, he remembers the childhood encounters with death he experienced in the “far field” behind the greenhouse his father, Otto, owned in Saginaw, Michigan. There he first saw “the shrunken face of a dead rat” and the blasted “entrails” of a shot “tom-cat.” As a child, he had mourned dead animals but says, “My grief was not excessive.” Grief was balanced by his memories of swarms of “warblers in early May” whose flights and twittering created images of...
(The entire section is 645 words.)