Four Critics’ Perspective of Theodore Roethke's Elegy for Jane

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Four Critics’ Perspective of Theodore Roethke's Elegy for Jane

More than forty years after her untimely death, Jane Bannick breathes again--or so it seems while reading about her. Jane's unfortunate death in an equestrian accident prompted one of her professors, the poet Theodore Roethke, to write a moving poem, "Elegy for Jane," recalling his young student and his feelings of grief at her loss. Opinions appeared almost as soon as Roethke's tribute to Jane, and passages about the poem continue to appear in articles and books. Recent writings by Parini, Ross-Bryant, Kalaidjian, and Stiffler disclose current assessments.

According to Parini, Jane's death is not the subject of the poem; rather, her death presents an occasion for calling up a certain emotional state in which Roethke's feelings of grief and pity transcend the occasion. Following the standard of elegiac celebration of the vegetation god Adonis reaching back to Bion's Lament for Adonis and Moschus's Lament for Bion, Roethke associates the deceased with elemental aspects of nature--the plant tendrils, the pickerel, the wren--to defuse the pathos of her death. A Romantic poet, Roethke views death as a stage; the plants point to rebirth (138-39). The subject of Roethke's most famous poem (45) becomes the response to Jane's death and his ambivalent emotions at her graveside. Without the associations of earlier elegies, the emotion would surpass the occasion. Roethke mourns not only Jane, whom he knew only slightly, but also the deaths of us all (138-39).

Jane presents one aspect of woman in The Waking collection (1953): Ross-Bryant views Jane as a young girl who is dead. The poem expresses concern with the coming of death. This poignant elegy is presen...

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...ini and Ross-Bryant appear almost polarized in their opinion of the nature of Roethke's feelings for Jane: Parini contends that Roethke mourns for us all; Ross-Bryant feels that Roethke's grief is intensely personal. Other than the nature of than Roethke's feelings for Jane, these four critics find little to disagree about in "Elegy for Jane."

Works Cited

Kalaidjian, Walter B. Understanding Theodore Roethke. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1987.

Parini, Jay. Theodore Roethke: An American Romantic. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1979.

Roethke, Theodore. The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke. New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1975.

Ross-Bryant, Lynn. Theodore Roethke: Poetry of the Earth . . . Poet of the Spirit. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat, 1981.

Stiffler, Randall. Theodore Roethke: The Poet and His Critics. Chicago: ALA, 1986.
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