'The Far Field' by Theodore Roethke

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II dream of journeys repeatedly:
Of flying like a bat deep into a narrowing tunnel
Of driving alone, without luggage, out a long peninsula,
The road lined with snow-laden second growth,
A fine dry snow ticking the windshield,
Alternate snow and sleet, no on-coming traffic,
And no lights behind, in the blurred side-mirror,
The road changing from glazed tarface to a rubble of stone,
Ending at last in a hopeless sand-rut,
Where the car stalls,
Churning in a snowdrift
Until the headlights darken.IIAt the field's end, in the corner missed by the mower,
Where the turf drops off into a grass-hidden culvert,
Haunt of the cat-bird, nesting-place of the field-mouse,
Not too far away from the ever-changing flower-dump,
Among the tin cans, tires, rusted pipes, broken machinery, --
One learned of the eternal;
And in the shrunken face of a dead rat, eaten by rain and ground-beetles
(I found in lying among the rubble of an old coal bin)
And the tom-cat, caught near the pheasant-run,
Its entrails strewn over the half-grown flowers,
Blasted to death by the night watchman.I suffered for young birds, for young rabbits caught in the mower,
My grief was not excessive.
For to come upon warblers in early May
Was to forget time and death:
How they filled the oriole's elm, a twittering restless cloud, all one morning,
And I watched and watched till my eyes blurred from the bird shapes, --Cape May, Blackburnian, Cerulean, --Moving, elusive as fish, fearless,Hanging, bunched like young fruit, bending the end branches,
Still for a moment,
Then pitching away in half-flight,
Lighter than finches,
While the wrens bickered and sang in the half-green hedgerows,
And the flicker drummed from his dead tree in the chicken-yard.-- Or to lie naked in sand,
In the silted shallows of a slow river,
Fingering a shell,
Once I was something like this, mindless,
Or perhaps with another mind, less peculiar;
Or to sink down to the hips in a mossy quagmire;
Or, with skinny knees, to sit astride a wet log,
I'll return again,
As a snake or a raucous bird,
Or, with luck, as a lion.I learned not to fear infinity,
The far field, the windy cliffs of forever,
The dying of time in the white light of tomorrow,
The wheel turning away from itself,
The sprawl of the wave,
The on-coming water.II
The river turns on itself,
The tree retreats into its own shadow.
I feel a weightless change, a moving forward
As of water quickening before a narrowing channel
When banks converge, and the wide river whitens;
Or when two rivers combine, the blue glacial torrent
And the yellowish-green from the mountainy upland, --At first a swift rippling between rocks,
Then a long running over flat stones
Before descending to the alluvial plane,
To the clay banks, and the wild grapes hanging from the elmtrees.
The slightly trembling water
Dropping a fine yellow silt where the sun stays;
And the crabs bask near the edge,
The weedy edge, alive with small snakes and bloodsuckers, --I have come to a still, but not a deep center,
A point outside the glittering current;
My eyes stare at the bottom of a river,
At the irregular stones, iridescent sandgrains,
My mind moves in more than one place,
In a country half-land, half-water.I am renewed by death, thought of my death,
The dry scent of a dying garden in September,
The wind fanning the ash of a low fire.
What I love is near at hand,
Always, in earth and air.IVThe lost self changes,
Turning toward the sea,
A sea-shape turning around, --An old man with his feet before the fire,
In robes of green, in garments of adieu.
A man faced with his own immensity
Wakes all the waves, all their loose wandering fire.
The murmur of the absolute, the why
Of being born falls on his naked ears.
His spirit moves like monumental wind
That gentles on a sunny blue plateau.
He is the end of things, the final man.All finite things reveal infinitude:The mountain with its singular bright shade
Like the blue shine on freshly frozen snow,The after-light upon ice-burdened pines;
Odor of basswood on a mountain-slope,
A scent beloved of bees;
Silence of water above a sunken tree :The pure serene of memory in one man, --
A ripple widening from a single stone
Winding around the waters of the world.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Far Field by Theodore Roethke: A Masterpiece of Poetic Sensibility

As I read through Theodore Roethke's The Far Field, my heart swelled with a rush of emotions - awe, ecstasy, and admiration, all rolled into one. Never have I come across a piece of poetry that delves so deep into the human psyche, unraveling the mysteries of life and death, love and loss, and the eternal human struggle for meaning and purpose. Every line of this masterpiece is infused with an intense poetic sensibility that forces us to confront the harsh realities of existence, while at the same time, holding out the promise of redemption and transcendence.

Themes and Motifs

At its core, The Far Field is a meditation on the transience of life and the inevitability of death. Roethke portrays the human condition as a fleeting and fragile thing, subject to the whims of fate and circumstance. In "The Long Waters," for instance, he writes:

The long waters are running, and the yellow hills are dancing, The rainbow hangs on the poising willow.

These lines evoke a sense of beauty and joy, but also a sense of impermanence and uncertainty. The waters are running, but where are they going? The hills may be dancing now, but what will happen when the dance is over? The rainbow is a symbol of hope and promise, but it is also a reminder that all things must pass.

Another recurring motif in The Far Field is the idea of transformation and renewal. Roethke suggests that even in the face of death and decay, there is always the possibility of rebirth and regeneration. In "The Waking," he writes:

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. I learn by going where I have to go.

These lines capture the essence of Roethke's poetic philosophy - that life is a journey, and that we must embrace the unknown and the unknowable in order to truly live. We must be willing to risk everything, to go to the farthest reaches of our souls, if we hope to find meaning and purpose in this world.

Symbols and Imagery

One of the most striking features of The Far Field is its rich and evocative imagery. Roethke uses a wide range of symbols and metaphors to convey his message, from the natural world to the human body to the realm of dreams and imagination. In "The Rose," for example, he writes:

The rose is a rose, And was always a rose. But the theory now goes That the apple's a rose,

These lines are deceptively simple, but they contain a wealth of meaning. The rose, a traditional symbol of beauty and love, is here juxtaposed with the apple, a symbol of temptation and sin. Roethke suggests that our perceptions of reality are constantly shifting and evolving, that nothing is ever as it seems.

Another powerful image in The Far Field is that of the human body, which Roethke uses to explore the depths of the human soul. In "Cuttings," he writes:

My blood runs thick: Cut out the slivers of the heart, Those jealousies and fears, That infest the marrow like disease.

These lines are a vivid depiction of the inner workings of the human mind, with all its contradictions and complexities. Roethke suggests that we are all plagued by our own demons, but that we have the power to overcome them through self-reflection and self-awareness.

Structure and Style

The Far Field is a masterful piece of poetry not only because of its themes and imagery, but also because of its structure and style. Roethke employs a variety of formal techniques, from rhyme and meter to repetition and allusion, to create a rich and complex tapestry of meaning. In "The Lost Son," for example, he uses repetition to great effect:

I have come a long way to where you lie, You have awakened and so have I. How did you know I would be here?

These lines create a sense of urgency and longing, as if the speaker is reaching out to a long-lost love or friend. The repetition of "I" and "you" underscores the intimacy and connection between the two, while the allusion to the biblical parable of the prodigal son adds a layer of complexity and depth.

Roethke also uses meter and rhyme to great effect, as in "The Reckoning":

Who can decipher The melody of a year? The song of a season?

These lines have a lilting, musical quality that captures the beauty and harmony of the natural world. The rhyme scheme reinforces this sense of order and balance, while the rhetorical questions challenge us to think deeply about the mysteries of existence.


In conclusion, The Far Field is a masterpiece of poetic sensibility, a work of art that speaks to the deepest recesses of the human soul. Through its themes of life and death, transformation and renewal, Roethke reminds us of the fragility and beauty of our existence, and the need to embrace the unknown and the unknowable. Through its rich and evocative symbolism and imagery, he invites us on a journey of self-discovery and self-awareness, challenging us to confront our inner demons and find redemption and transcendence. And through its formal techniques and style, he creates a work of art that is both beautiful and profound, a testament to the enduring power of poetry.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Theodore Roethke's "The Far Field" is a classic poem that has captivated readers for decades. This poem is a beautiful and powerful exploration of the human experience, and it is filled with rich imagery and deep emotion. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of "The Far Field" to gain a deeper understanding of this timeless work of poetry.

The poem begins with the speaker describing a journey into the wilderness, where he is searching for something elusive and mysterious. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, with its vivid imagery and sense of anticipation:

"I dream of journeys repeatedly:
Of flying like a bat deep into a narrowing tunnel
Of driving alone, without luggage, out a long peninsula,
The road lined with snow-laden second growth,
A fine dry snow ticking the windshield,
Alternate snow and sleet, no on-coming traffic,
And no lights behind, in the blurred side-mirror,
The road changing from glazed tarface to a rubble of stone,
Ending at last in a hopeless sand-rut,
Where the car stalls, churning in a snowdrift
Until the headlights darken."

The language here is rich and evocative, with the speaker describing his dreams of flying and driving through a wintry landscape. The sense of isolation and loneliness is palpable, as the speaker is alone on his journey and there is no one else around. The use of the word "hopeless" in the final line of the stanza is particularly powerful, as it suggests that the speaker's journey may be futile and that he may never find what he is looking for.

The second stanza shifts the focus to the speaker's inner thoughts and emotions, as he reflects on his own mortality and the passage of time:

"Then the drums begin,
Slowly at first, then faster and faster,
Staccato, regular,
Faster and faster on the muffled drum-heads—
And then I distinguish
The tulip-trees are mad,
Mad in the white, hot room among the leaves
—And the first cut is deadly."

Here, the speaker hears the sound of drums in his mind, which gradually become faster and more intense. The use of the word "deadly" in the final line is ominous, suggesting that the speaker is aware of his own mortality and that time is running out for him. The image of the tulip-trees being "mad" in the heat of the moment is also striking, as it suggests that the speaker is experiencing a kind of madness or frenzy himself.

The third stanza returns to the external world, as the speaker describes the landscape around him in more detail:

"In the cicada's cry
No sign can foretell
How soon it must die.
The far-off stars are souls
Of little children,
Whose teeth are made of needles
And whose voices are like birds
—And the broken glass that ornaments
The sand-blue bottle-neck
On the table by my bed
Reflects a broken world,
A thousand fragments,
—And I wonder
How any thing can ever have been whole
Or how I myself can ever have been young;
For the world, I see, is utterly
Falling apart,
Slowly, imperceptibly,
Though I feel my heart still beat
And the world still turning."

This stanza is filled with powerful imagery, as the speaker describes the cicada's cry, the stars, and the broken glass on his bedside table. The sense of fragmentation and decay is palpable, as the speaker reflects on the impermanence of all things. The use of the word "utterly" in the final line is particularly striking, as it suggests that the speaker sees the world as being in a state of complete disintegration.

The fourth and final stanza brings the poem to a close, as the speaker reflects on the nature of his journey and the meaning of his search:

"Slowly, slowly,
The far-off stars
The cicada's cry
Cuts across the silence
And one by one
The fire-flies
Come out
—To see me home."

Here, the speaker describes the stars slowly fading away, and the sound of the cicada's cry cutting through the silence. The image of the fireflies coming out to guide the speaker home is a powerful one, suggesting that even in the midst of darkness and uncertainty, there is still hope and guidance to be found.

In terms of structure, "The Far Field" is a four-stanza poem with a consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB. The use of repetition and imagery throughout the poem creates a sense of unity and coherence, as the various themes and images are woven together into a cohesive whole. The language is rich and evocative, with Roethke using vivid imagery and sensory details to create a powerful emotional impact.

In terms of themes, "The Far Field" is a meditation on the human experience, exploring the themes of mortality, isolation, and the search for meaning. The speaker's journey into the wilderness is a metaphor for the human journey through life, with its ups and downs, its moments of clarity and confusion. The sense of isolation and loneliness that pervades the poem is a reminder of the fundamental human condition, as we all struggle to find our place in the world and make sense of our lives.

Overall, "The Far Field" is a beautiful and powerful poem that speaks to the human experience in a profound and moving way. Roethke's use of language and imagery is masterful, creating a sense of depth and richness that is rare in poetry. This is a poem that rewards careful reading and reflection, and it is sure to continue to captivate readers for generations to come.

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