Facts about Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke died at 55 years old
Born: May 25, 1908
Best known as: The Michigan poet who wrote "Elegy for Jane"

     
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Theodore Roethke Biography

Name at birth: Theodore Huebner Roethke

Theodore Roethke was an American poet of the mid-20th century whose personal, introspective poems influenced a generation of modern poets and earned him a Pulitzer Prize and two National Book Awards.

He grew up in Michigan, and spending time in his father’s floral business informed many of his poems, especially the “greenhouse poems” of his second, critically acclaimed collection The Lost Son.

Educated at the University of Michigan and Harvard University, Roethke spent most of his career teaching, with a position at Washington University after 1947. His fourth book, The Waking, won the Pulitzer in 1953 and included the often-reprinted poem, “Elegy for Jane.”

He won the National Book Award for 1958’s Words for the Wind, and also for the posthumously published The Far Field (1964).

Roethke was a heavy drinker and was subject to bouts of mania and depression. It’s been said all his poems are about the self and an exploration of the psychic landscape, and that his use of natural imagery and stylistic inventiveness made him one of the greatest of American poets, an influence on other writers such as Robert Bly, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.

He died of a heart attack while swimming in a friend’s pool on Bainbridge Island, Washington.


     

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