Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 513

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.

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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 psychological unity in a constantly changing world is a goal of Roethke and a goal of most visionary poets. Creation of such timeless moments is one possible goal of all art, and Roethke tries to forge one such moment in “The Far Field.”

Roethke also is one of the post-World War II founders of the confessionalist poetry movement in the United States. Confessionalist poets are openly autobiographical; they use personal experiences in most of their poems and use the first-person tense to refer to versions of themselves. Confessionalists believe that if they dive deeply enough into their own psyches and expose their own fears, desires, and taboos, they will find a more universal level of experience shared by all peoples in all times. In his poetry, Roethke shares moments of depression and despair—such as part 1 of “The Far Field”—and even his struggles with manic depression and madness, in other poems.

Yet Roethke also celebrates his loves and desires for wholeness and turns to the natural world’s beauty as an antidote to the ugliness of much of modern existence. His confessionalist poems are affirmations of being. He sees the creation of hope and of alternate visions of the world as being a responsibility of the post-World War II poet. He was a teacher-poet all his life and felt that modern education was too analytical. He sought to teach ways of synthesizing, speaking of metaphor as being “a synthesis, a building up, a creation of a new world.” The creation of a new mental world is what he envisioned in “The Far Field.”

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