Was planning to run this immediately after 'The Midnightmouse' last week, but forgot...
(Poem #267) The Meadow Mouse
1 In a shoe box stuffed in an old nylon stocking Sleeps the baby mouse I found in the meadow, Where he trembled and shook beneath a stick Till I caught him up by the tail and brought him in, Cradled in my hand, A little quaker, the whole body of him trembling, His absurd whiskers sticking out like a cartoon-mouse, His feet like small leaves, Little lizard-feet, Whitish and spread wide when he tried to struggle away, Wriggling like a minuscule puppy. Now he's eaten his three kinds of cheese and drunk from his bottle-cap watering-trough-- So much he just lies in one corner, His tail curled under him, his belly big As his head; his bat-like ears Twitching, tilting toward the least sound. Do I imagine he no longer trembles When I come close to him? He seems no longer to tremble. 2 But this morning the shoe-box house on the back porch is empty. Where has he gone, my meadow mouse, My thumb of a child that nuzzled in my palm?-- To run under the hawk's wing, Under the eye of the great owl watching from the elm-tree, To live by courtesy of the shrike, the snake, the tom-cat. I think of the nestling fallen into the deep grass, The turtle gasping in the dusty rubble of the highway, The paralytic stunned in the tub, and the water rising,-- All things innocent, hapless, forsaken.
What most interests me about today's poem is its division into two very distinct parts. It starts off as an exceedingly ordinary animal poem, of the sort that abounds in school workbooks. Indeed, if I didn't know its provenance, I would be tempted to label it juvenilia (and not very precocious juvenilia at that) and think no more about it. The second section, though, is everything that the first is not - original, disturbing, provocative, carefully constructed... I especially like the phrasing: while it's not stunning in and of itself, it is very effective at what it sets out to do, and it's original enough to stick in your mind. The transition isn't particularly abrupt, but it's very noticeable. And most definitely intentional - the final stanza (the actual crux of the poem) wouldn't work half as well without what went before it. In a sense, the very ineptitude of the first section draws attention to the power of the last ten lines. Skilfully done. thomas. [Biography] Theodore Roethke was born in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1908. As a child, he spent much time in the greenhouse owned by his father and uncle. His impressions of the natural world contained there would later profoundly influence the subjects and imagery of his verse. Roethke attended the University of Michigan and took a few classes at Harvard, but was unhappy in school. His first book, Open House (1941), took ten years to write and was critically acclaimed upon its publication. He went on to publish sparingly but his reputation grew with each new collection, including The Waking which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1954. He admired the writing of such poets as Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Blake, and Wordsworth, as well as Yeats and Dylan Thomas. Stylistically his work ranged from witty poems in strict meter and regular stanzas to free verse poems full of mystical and surrealistic imagery. At all times, however, the natural world in all its mystery, beauty, fierceness, and sensuality, is close by, and the poems are possessed of an intense lyricism. Roethke had close literary friendships with fellow poets W. H. Auden, Louise Bogan, Stanley Kunitz, and William Carlos Williams. He taught at various colleges and universities, including Lafayette, Pennsylvania State, and Bennington, and worked last at the University of Washington, where he was mentor to a generation of Northwest poets that included David Wagoner, Carolyn Kizer, and Richard Hugo. Theodore Roethke died in 1963.