Friday, February 15, 2013

I Knew a Woman

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Theodore Roethke’s poem, I knew a woman, is about a man’s love for a woman. Throughout this poem, the speaker praises this woman. The tone is very loving and appreciative. When the author says, “Of her choice virtues only Gods should speak, Or English poets who grew up on Greek (line 5),” he means that the woman that he speaks of is so great that only the brightest and best beings should have the priveledge of praising her.

The speaker in I knew a woman is a man who is probably around thirty-years-old. I believe this is true because the language he uses to describe the woman sounds youthful and giddy, but has a serious undertone. I think this idea in best represented in line 18 when the speaker says, “My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees; her several parts could keep a pure repose.” The first part of the sentence is bright and hopeful, especially when the speaker uses the word “dazzled,” while the second part sounds much more mature and composed. At this age, the speaker would be able to achieve both tones in his poem and still sound believable. I also believe the speaker is this age because I think the woman he speaks of in the poem is about thirty-years-old as well, and I don’t believe the speaker is much older than the woman. I feel this way because he doesn’t make the woman sound na├»ve or inexperienced in the poem; he presents her as his equal.

Though the formal terms of the relationship between the man and the woman in the poem is not clearly expressed, I don’t think they are married because it doesn’t seem like the man fully possesses the woman. It doesn’t seem like he has her all to himself. Maybe they are not an exclusive couple or maybe the woman is a free spirit who will not be tied down. I also wonder at the time the poem was written if the man and the woman are still together, as he speaks of her in the past tense throughout the poem. Even the title of the poem, I knew a woman, suggests that the relationship might be over or at least dwindeling. Another thought I had about the woman is that she might be dead or dying when this was written, and the speaker has either not fully comprehended or accepted this, as he switches back and forth from speaking about her in the present and past tenses.

This poem is full of symbols and metaphors. The first symbol is in line . “When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them,” is probably figurative but can be taken literally. It means that the woman is kind to everyone and everything, and she respects things in nature. In this case it almost seems that she possesses a childlike quality, like a little girl who talks to her pets like they are her friends. In line 1, the author says, “She was the sickle, I, poor I, the rake, coming behind her for her pretty sake (but what prodigious mowing did we make).” This metaphor speaks of the different roles of the man and woman in the relationship. The woman is the sickle, which cuts down the grass. She is the one who takes charge of situations. The man is the rake, which cleans up the debris and the mess left behind. The man takes care of the details and makes sure everything is in its place. The last sentence explains how, although they are very different, the man and the woman work well as a team. They both know their roles in the relationship and the combination is very successful.

Theodore Roethke presents the theme and tone of this poem in every line through diction and figurative language. By the time I was finished with the first sentence, the speaker’s feelings for the woman were obvious. He loves this woman more then anything and would do anything for her. His feelings are implied in every symbol and metaphor. This poem was written simply to share his passion with anyone who would listen.

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