In "In Memoriam A. H. H.," a new kind of elegy with roots in the elegiac tradition, Tennyson writes, "For words, like Nature, half reveal/And half conceal the Soul within" (1045). The truth of Tennyson's statement appears in Theodore Roethke's "Elegy for Jane: My Student Killed by a Horse." Roethke conceals much about himself as a person yet reveals much about himself as a poet when he puts his grief into words.
Without knowing something of Roethke's personal and professional life, one would think that a student named Jane was the sole inspiration for this moving elegy; however, in The Glass House, the poet's biographer, Allan Seager, reveals more than one possible source of inspiration for the poem. At the University of Washington, as at Roethke's other teaching posts, students liked him, and he frequently formed close relationships with his students--in fact, he married one of his former students; however, this was not the case with Jane Bannick. Seager reveals that "Ted had not known her [Jane] very well." She " was a student of Ted's for only one quarter. She was thrown from a horse and killed" (193). Yet another one of his students may also have had an influence on this elegy.
According to Seager, Roethke "may have been influenced also by Lois Lamb, who had fallen from a horse the previous summer and described the attendant fears to him in detail" (193). Seager also mentions that [the poet] and Lamb conducted a series of `experiments' with a flock of turkeys on the sanitarium [Pinel] grounds" (187) during the poet's 1949-50 hospitalization of manic-depressive illness. These visits by Lamb indicate a closer relationship between Roethke and Lamb t...
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... us all. We can all relate to it. Thus, drawing not only upon his personal experiences and emotion but also universal emotion as well as elegiac and pastoral traditions, Roethke reveals himself as not only a warm, caring instructor but also as an outstanding, and perhaps instinctive, poet.
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.
Seager, Allan. The Glass House: The Life of Theodore Roethke. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.
Tennyson, Alfred Lord. "In Memoriam A. H. H." The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 3rd ed., Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 1974. 1042-84.
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