“The Lost Son” has five parts—“The Flight,” “The Pit,” “The Gibber,” “The Return,” and “’It Was Beginning Winter’”—each of which describes a stage in the grief of the poetic persona (in this case, surely Roethke himself). The poet works through the various stages of his feelings of sorrow and desolation to reach a conclusion which is not really a relief of his feelings but a hope for future solace.
Part 1, “The Flight,” begins with a reference to a cemetery (“Woodlawn”), and it is from this place and the fact of death that the flight occurs. From other references later in the poem, one can deduce that the death which has so shocked the poet is that of his father. Although the poet hopes to find some comfort in the little creatures of nature and specifically asks them to help him, he receives no such comfort: “Nothing nibbled my line,/ Not even the minnows came.”
He feels alone and isolated and specifically asks for help, praying not to God but to the creatures of nature to tell him something and give him some sign. They only answer him in riddles (“The moon said, back of an eel”) and in negatives: “You will find no comfort here,/ In the kingdom of bang and blab.” As if in response to this comment, the section ends with a riddle posed by the poet which describes a strange creature, part land animal and part amphibian. Critics have suggested that the creature is an unborn child, and this answer compels the poet to delve deeper into his unconscious mind, back even further than childhood, to find the relief for his fear and depression.
Accordingly, the next section, “The Pit,” which is the shortest, describes a...
(The entire section is 693 words.)