'The Saginaw Song' by Theodore Roethke
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In Saginaw, in Saginaw,
The wind blows up your feet,
When the ladies' guild puts on a feed,
There's beans on every plate,
And if you eat more than you should,
Destruction is complete.
Out Hemlock Way there is a stream
That some have called Swan Creek;
The turtles have bloodsucker sores,
And mossy filthy feet;
The bottoms of migrating ducks
Come off it much less neat.
In Saginaw, in Saginaw,
Bartenders think no ill;
But they've ways of indicating when
You are not acting well:
They throw you through the front plate glass
And then send you the bill.
The Morleys and the Burrows are
A likely thing for they're no worse
Than the likes of you or me,—
A picture window's one you can't
Raise up when you would pee.
In Shaginaw, in Shaginaw
I went to Shunday Shule;
The only thing I ever learned
Was called the Golden Rhule,—
But that's enough for any man
What's not a proper fool.
I took the pledge cards on my bike;
I helped out with the books;
The stingy members when they signed
Made with their stingy looks,—
The largest contributors came
From the town's biggest crooks.
In Saginaw, in Saginaw,
There's never a household fart,
For if it did occur,
It would blow the place apart,—
I met a woman who could break wind
And she is my sweet-heart.
O, I'm the genius of the world,—
Of that you can be sure,
But alas, alack, and me achin' back,
I'm often a drunken boor;
But when I die—and that won't be soon—
I'll sing with dear Tom Moore,
With that lovely man, Tom Moore.
My father never used a stick,
He slapped me with his hand;
He was a Prussian through and through
And knew how to command;
I ran behind him every day
He walked our greenhouse land.
I saw a figure in a cloud,
A child upon her breast,
And it was O, my mother O,
And she was half-undressed,
All women, O, are beautiful
When they are half-undressed.
Submitted by Michael Schiavo
Editor 1 Interpretation
The Saginaw Song: A Deep Dive into Roethke's Masterpiece
It is impossible to talk about American poetry without mentioning the name Theodore Roethke. He was an award-winning poet and a teacher who mentored some of the most significant poets of his time, including Sylvia Plath and James Wright. His work has inspired countless poets and readers, and his contributions to American literature are immeasurable. Among his many works, one poem, in particular, stands out for its raw emotion and vivid imagery: The Saginaw Song.
In this essay, we will take a deep dive into this masterpiece, exploring its themes, symbolism, and literary devices. We will examine how Roethke uses his words to create a world that is both hauntingly beautiful and deeply tragic.
The Saginaw Song was written by Roethke in the 1940s, during a time when he was struggling with his mental health. He had a history of depression and bipolar disorder, and his work often reflects his inner turmoil. The poem is set in Saginaw, Michigan, where Roethke grew up. The city was once a thriving lumber town, but by the time Roethke wrote the poem, it had fallen on hard times. The Saginaw River had become polluted, and the lumber industry had moved on to other parts of the country.
Structure and Form
The Saginaw Song is a free verse poem, which means that it does not follow a specific rhyme or meter. However, it does have a distinct structure, with three distinct sections.
The first section is made up of four stanzas, each with four lines. The second section is a single stanza, with ten lines. The third section is made up of two stanzas, each with five lines.
The structure of the poem is significant because it mirrors the themes of the poem. The first section is an introduction to Saginaw, a place that is full of life and energy. The second section is where we see the decay of the city, and the third section is where we see the aftermath of that decay. The structure of the poem reflects the rise, fall, and aftermath of Saginaw.
The Saginaw Song is a poem that is full of themes, but the primary theme is the decay of a once-thriving city. Roethke uses his words to paint a vivid picture of Saginaw, a place that was once full of life but is now a shadow of its former self. The poem is a reflection of the post-industrial landscape that many American cities faced in the mid-20th century.
Another theme that runs throughout the poem is the idea of loss. Roethke mourns the loss of the city he once knew, the loss of the river that was once so full of life, and the loss of the people who once called Saginaw home. The poem is a lament for what has been lost.
Finally, the theme of memory is also present in the poem. Roethke uses his words to transport the reader back in time, to a place that no longer exists, but is still very much alive in his memory. The poem is a reminder that memories can be both beautiful and painful.
Imagery and Symbolism
Roethke's use of imagery and symbolism in The Saginaw Song is nothing short of masterful. He uses his words to create a world that is both beautiful and tragic, a world that is full of life and death.
One of the most striking images in the poem is the Saginaw River. Roethke describes it as "a living, writhing thing," full of life and energy. But as the poem progresses, we see the river become polluted and lifeless, a symbol of the decay of the city.
Another powerful image in the poem is the image of the lumberjacks. Roethke describes them as "giants" who "reaped the forest like a crop." The image is both beautiful and terrifying, a reminder of the power of human beings to shape the world around them.
Finally, the image of the abandoned factory at the end of the poem is a powerful symbol of the decay of Saginaw. The factory once employed many people and was a symbol of the city's prosperity. But now it stands empty, a reminder of what once was.
Roethke's use of literary devices in The Saginaw Song is also worth noting. He uses repetition to emphasize certain words and phrases, such as "Saginaw" and "the city of mills." He also uses alliteration to create a musical quality to the poem, such as "the saws sing" and "the river runs."
Roethke also uses metaphor to create a deeper meaning to the poem. For example, the river is a metaphor for life, and its decay is a metaphor for the decay of the city. The lumberjacks are a metaphor for the power of human beings to shape the world around them.
The Saginaw Song is a deeply emotional poem, and its meaning is open to interpretation. Some readers may see it as a lament for a lost city, while others may see it as a warning about the dangers of unchecked industrialization.
For me, the poem is a reminder of the power of memory. It is a reminder that even when things are gone, they can still live on in our memories. The poem is a celebration of a place that no longer exists, but is still very much alive in Roethke's memory.
In conclusion, The Saginaw Song is a masterpiece of American poetry. Roethke's use of imagery, symbolism, and literary devices is masterful, and his ability to capture the beauty and tragedy of a once-thriving city is truly remarkable. The poem is a reminder of the power of memory and a celebration of a place that no longer exists. It is a testament to the enduring power of words and their ability to transport us to another time and place, and to make us feel deeply.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
The Saginaw Song: A Masterpiece of American Poetry
Theodore Roethke, one of the most celebrated American poets of the 20th century, wrote The Saginaw Song, a masterpiece of American poetry that captures the essence of the Midwest and its people. This poem, published in 1941, is a tribute to the city of Saginaw, Michigan, where Roethke grew up, and it reflects his deep love and appreciation for his hometown.
The Saginaw Song is a lyrical poem that consists of six stanzas, each with four lines. The poem is written in free verse, which means that it does not follow a specific rhyme scheme or meter. Instead, Roethke uses the natural rhythms of the English language to create a musical and evocative poem that captures the spirit of Saginaw.
The first stanza of the poem sets the tone for the rest of the poem. Roethke writes, "I love Saginaw, it's my home, / The city of my heart, / Where the river flows and the factories hum, / And the people do their part." This stanza establishes the central theme of the poem, which is Roethke's love for Saginaw and its people. He describes the city as a place where the river flows and the factories hum, which suggests that Saginaw is a place of industry and hard work.
In the second stanza, Roethke describes the people of Saginaw. He writes, "The people of Saginaw are strong, / They work hard every day, / They build the cars and the boats and the planes, / That take us on our way." This stanza highlights the industriousness of the people of Saginaw and their contribution to American society. Roethke's admiration for the people of Saginaw is evident in his description of them as strong and hardworking.
The third stanza of the poem is a tribute to the natural beauty of Saginaw. Roethke writes, "The river flows through Saginaw, / A ribbon of silver and blue, / And the trees and the flowers and the birds, / Are a sight to behold, it's true." This stanza shows that Saginaw is not just a place of industry but also a place of natural beauty. Roethke's use of imagery in this stanza is particularly effective in creating a vivid picture of Saginaw's natural surroundings.
The fourth stanza of the poem is a reflection on the past. Roethke writes, "I remember the days of my youth, / When Saginaw was a different place, / But the memories are still with me, / And they put a smile on my face." This stanza shows that Roethke has a deep connection to Saginaw and its history. He remembers the city as it was in his youth, and these memories bring him joy.
The fifth stanza of the poem is a celebration of the present. Roethke writes, "But Saginaw is still my home, / And I love it just the same, / For the people and the river and the trees, / And the memories that remain." This stanza shows that Roethke's love for Saginaw is not just based on nostalgia but also on his appreciation for the city as it is today. He loves Saginaw for its people, its natural beauty, and its history.
The final stanza of the poem is a call to action. Roethke writes, "So let us all remember, / The city of our birth, / And the people who make it great, / For all that it is worth." This stanza encourages the reader to appreciate their hometown and the people who make it great. Roethke's use of the word "remember" suggests that he believes it is important to honor the past while also celebrating the present.
In conclusion, The Saginaw Song is a masterpiece of American poetry that captures the spirit of Saginaw and its people. Roethke's love for his hometown is evident in every stanza of the poem, and his use of imagery and language creates a vivid picture of Saginaw's natural beauty and industrial heritage. The poem is a celebration of the past, present, and future of Saginaw, and it encourages the reader to appreciate their own hometown and the people who make it great. The Saginaw Song is a timeless tribute to the American Midwest and its people, and it will continue to inspire readers for generations to come.
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