The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“I Knew a Woman” (along with fifteen other short lyrics) appeared in a section of Words for the Wind entitled “Love Poems.” This poem was apparently written about the time of Theodore Roethke’s marriage to Beatrice O’Connell (a former student of his), and its speaker is a man very much in love and awed by the beauty of the woman he admires so profoundly. The poem concentrates on the erotic and physical but deals also with larger philosophical issues. Its tone is a subtle mix of the comic and the serious.

The poem’s metrical pattern is consistently iambic pentameter, but its stanza form is somewhat unusual. Each of the four stanzas consists of seven lines, and the typical rhyme scheme is ababccc. Actually the first four lines contain no rhyme at all, but later lines (except for line 21) follow this scheme precisely. This movement from complete lack of rhyme to a very regular rhyme scheme parallels the growing harmony between the two lovers.

Since the poem’s first line uses a past-tense verb and refers to bones, some readers have assumed that the central female character is now dead. Such a conclusion is questionable. In this case the verb “knew” surely alludes (in the biblical sense) to specific episodes of sexual intimacy and not necessarily to a relationship that has ended completely. Furthermore, the assertion that the woman was “lovely in her bones” may actually be extravagant praise of her enduring...

(The entire section is 484 words.)