Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Roethke uses images of flowing water to help create his sense of unity with nature and to portray states of mind during various stages in his meditation. Waters start in mountain creeks (headwaters), then flow into wider rivers, which end at the seashore in a fusion of inland (mentally, individual thought) and more universal oceanic waters. Roethke’s diverse forms of water imagery create an analogy between flowing water in the natural world and a similar but psychological movement in the mental world during an intense meditation. His watery landscapes are both physical and mental, but he seeks to merge the two different levels.

On a physical level, Roethke’s waters follow a downward flow toward larger and larger bodies of water to represent the natural unity of all waters in the world. The mental dimensions of aquatic flow involve a quest for unity in the mind by moving through stages of meditation. Roethke shows how in meditation emerging thoughts from the unconscious, such as fear of death in this poem, can flow outward toward some kind of transpersonal mental realm to create a kind of temporary mental unity. This transcendental unity is a peak experience for humans and is shared by the poet if the poet can get his or her audience into the “flow” of physical objects, such as bodies of water, and then move them to a mental plane and “flow” into a desirable psychological state of unity with the natural world. Creating moments of great...

(The entire section is 513 words.)