Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Several of Roethke’s previously stated themes not only appear but also are further developed in “Words for the Wind.” In “The Waking” (1954), a poem that also celebrates the sheer joy of existence and the knowledge that one finds by living one’s life intensely, Roethke wrote, “Great Nature has another thing to do/ To you and me,” meaning that death will come to all living things and therefore one must enjoy the miracle of life as much as possible. In “Words for the Wind,” however, these rather grim thoughts are balanced by the line, “Love has a thing to do,” which suggests that life is more than merely an inevitable decline to the grave and that it may be expanded and enlarged by the emotion of love.

Also in “The Waking,” Roethke wrote, “What falls away is always. And is near,” a line that suggests that the mind or spirit retains what the senses no longer have and that nothing is irrevocably lost. The echoing lines in “Words for the Wind” are “What falls away will fall;/ All things bring me to love.” This pair of lines suggest that it does not even matter if what is lost is permanently lost, because everything leads the poet back to the supreme experience, love. It is not necessary to dwell on or to retain the past if the present is informed by this ennobling and defining condition.

In “The Waking,” Roethke’s line “We think by feeling. What is there to know?” might be considered at worst...

(The entire section is 497 words.)