Theodore Roethke

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What literary devices does Theodore Roethke use in the poem "Root Cellar"?

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As other answers have noted, the poem is rich in alliteration, assonance, simile, personification, and imagery. Other literary devices it uses are consonance and allusion.

Consonance occurs when consonants inside words in close proximity are repeated. Like alliteration, which is the repetition of consonants at the beginning of words placed close together, consonance creates a pleasing sense of rhythm. An example of consonance in this poem is the repeated "k" sound at the end of words in this line:

broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark

Another example, in lines four and five, is the interior "l" sound that is repeated in "lolling," "obscenely," "mildewed," and "yellowed."

Allusion is making reference to other literary works in a text or to historical facts or events. When the speaker compares the "evil necks" of the trailing roots to snakes, the word "evil" tips us off to think of Satan disguised as a serpent in the Garden of Eden in the biblical book of Genesis, waiting to seduce Eve. The imagery of the poem supports the idea that there is something seductive, sensual, and even sexual in this dank root cellar where shoots loll or lay about "obscenely."

Most poets use imagery, which is description using the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell, but most concentrate on the visual and auditory. This poem, however, uses a good deal of scent imagery, in words such as "dank," "stinks," "ripe" (which can mean overdue for a bath or overripe and beginning to smell), and "rank," adding to the poem's sensuality.

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The alliteration in this poem serves to further the imagery Roethke creates. In the opening line, we hear both the s sound and d sound repeated:

Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,

The quick repetition of these hard consonants furthers the image of this cold, dark place where "nothing would sleep." The contrast between the plants' environment and their inability to give up on life becomes a focal point of the poem from that opening line.

Then consider the alliteration in the following line:

Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark

The repetition of the b sound is lighter, feeling bubbly and energetic. This furthers the imagery of the way these plants "hunt" their way out of the darkness in an unending quest for life.

Roethke also weaves personification into the poem, such as the way the bulbs "hunt" and the dirt "breathes." This makes it easier for readers to realize that these bulbs surviving under impossible circumstances are really metaphors for the great persevering ability of life itself, including humans. Even in the times when life seems "piled high against slippery planks," the ability to survive continues.

Roethke thus develops a contrast between the dark, suffocating imagery which is crafted through alliteration and the overall hopeful message illuminated through personification: in spite of dark situations, life will go on.

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While reading Theodore Roethke's "Root Cellar," one can almost smell the pungent odors and see the creeping shoots. He uses several literary devices in this short poem to bring the setting to life. Notable techniques are similes, imagery, personification, and hyperbole.

Several similes—comparisons using like or as—are used: "dank as a ditch," "like tropical snakes," and "ripe as old bait." Powerful imagery describes the smells: "Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich, Leaf-mold, manure." Several easy-to-visualize sights are described: "Shoots dangled and drooped, Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates, Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes."

Roethke personifies the items in the cellar, likening the shoots to human necks that are somehow "evil." He gives the roots and bulbs minds of their own. Thus things refuse to sleep—"Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark"—and the dirt breathes. The last line, in addition to using personification, is hyperbole, or exaggeration for effect. It's one thing to ascribe thoughts to the roots, whose shoots do indeed grow and exhibit signs of life, but to say that the dirt breathes is a fitting exaggeration that emphasizes how alive and awake the root cellar is.

Roethke uses a wide variety of literary devices effectively in this evocative eleven-line poem.

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Perhaps the most prominent literary device seen in Theodore Roethke's poem "Root Cellar" is imagery.

Imagery, according to eNotes, is

the forming of mental images, figures, or likenesses of things. It is also the use of language to represent actions, persons, objects, and ideas descriptively. This means encompassing the senses also, rather than just forming a mental picture.

Therefore, it is apparent that Roethke uses imagery in his poem when phrases such as "mildewed crates," "roots ripe as old bait," and "slippery planks" all appeal to many different senses other than just visual alone.

Other poetic, or literary, devices used in the poem are alliteration and assonance.

Alliteration is the repetition of a consonant sound within a line of poetry. Examples of alliteration in the poem are as follows:

1. "Dank as a ditch"-- "d" is repeated.

2. "Bulbs broke out of boxes"-- "b" is repeated.

3. "Roots ripe"--"r" is repeated.

Assonance is the repetition of a vowel sign within a line of poetry. Examples of assonance in the poem are as follows:

1. "Out of boxes"-- "o" is repeated.

2. "Chinks in"--"i" is repeated.

3. "Shoots...drooped"--"oo" is repeated.

One last poetic device found in the poem is a simile. A simile is a comparison made between two things using the words "like" or "as." (Be careful in determining this though, not all use of the words "like" or "as" denote a comparison.)

In "Root Cellar," the simile is found in the following lines:

Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.

The comparison made is between the shoots which hang down to tropical snakes.

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