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Last Updated on August 3, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 607

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In "Open House," Theodore Roethke intertwines himself physically and emotionally with the act of writing, likening the poetic process to a personified open house. Poetry requires an honest authenticity, he explains. It demands that writers lay themselves bare on the page, expose their emotional interiority, and hide nothing in the process. The human form and an open house become avenues for Roethke to describe the act of writing; it is akin to this metaphorically human house, as it allows viewers to peruse the open doors and airy rooms of the soul as they please. An open house is meant to be explored, and as he compares this house to his own body, Roethke explains that to write is to invite viewers inside himself and reveal the interiority that so often remains hidden. 

The first stanza introduces the speaker—presumably Roethke speaking as himself—who reveals that "my secrets cry aloud." Juxtaposing the silence of “secrets” with the vocal publicity of “cry aloud,” the speaker highlights poetry's central contrast. Writing poetry is an act that is equally freeing and revealing, for, as the second line indicates, it allows the speaker to bare himself so completely that he no longer has any “need for tongue.” Indeed, poetry permits him to forego speech, as the words he writes are an “epic of the eyes.” The speaker's “heart keeps open house” with “doors...widely swung;” through writing, he has exposed his internal self so that it is legible by viewing alone. Not only has he made this interior self visible, but he has done so “with no disguise.” There is no effort to curtail or obscure the truth of himself and his emotions, for they are the fuel that sparks his poetry.

Writing can be painful; indeed, it is as if writers metaphorically bleed onto each page to better mark the work with the personal intensity of their experiences. Stanza two reflects this sentiment, as the speaker is left “naked to the bone.” His “truths are all foreknown” and his “anguish [is] self-revealed.” Perhaps, for some, “naked” may imply a sense of undesirable exposure; the speaker, however, revels in this self-induced state of being. “Myself is what I wear,” meaning that he has purged himself of artifice and is clothed entirely in himself. He hides behind nothing, wears only his truth, and “keep[s] the spirit spare.” Poetry becomes a means of unburdening himself, revealing the depths of anguish and despair to the world to better rid himself of it. 

While the second stanza ends with the speaker presenting poetry as a “shield,” the final stanza revises the sentiment to introduce a darker tone to the cathartic act of writing poetry. Poetry allows him to “speak the truth” through language “strict and pure,” which refers to the genre’s ability to make subjective experience understandable to a wide audience and the speaker's stylistic choice to leave his work unornamented by ornate or florid language. Referring back to stanza two, his work keeps the “spirit spare” by presenting only the raw emotions of his experiences. As he does so, the truth he speaks takes on a heavy undercurrent, for, in his poetry, only “anger will endure.” Stopping the “lying mouth,” poetry becomes the way he communicates himself to the world. “Rage” shapes the course of his writing, though detailing such raw, painful material leaves him in a state of “witless agony.” Despite the final stanza’s darker tone, the sentiment of the previous stanzas remains true; even though it leaves him in “agony,” the speaker chooses to write as it keeps “the spirit spare” and frees him from bearing such burdens alone. 

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