Sunday, April 11, 2010

Poem of the Week: "Moss-Gathering," by Theodore Roethke

It's that time of year where flowers begin to bloom but trees and plants still have that look of winter deadness to them. This paradoxical season always puts me in the mood for one of my favorite poets, Theodore Roethke. Roethke grew up with gardeners, so the world of plants and natural life inform his work quite a bit. His poetry exists in a kind of "between-place," where life and death coexist within the natural symbols of the earth. Here's one of his earliest poems, which fits this mood quite nicely. Plus, who wouldn't want to end a poem with the word "desecration"? Badass.

Moss-Gathering, by Theodore Roethke

To loosen with all ten fingers held wide and limber
And lift up a patch, dark-green, the kind for lining cemetery baskets,
Thick and cushiony, like an old-fashioned doormat,
The crumbling small hollow sticks on the underside mixed with roots,
And wintergreen berries and leaves still stuck to the top, --
That was moss-gathering.
But something always went out of me when I dug loose those carpets
Of green, or plunged to my elbows in the spongy yellowish moss of the marshes:
And afterwards I always felt mean, jogging back over the logging road,
As if I had broken the natural order of things in that swampland;
Disturbed some rhythm, old and of vast importance,
By pulling off flesh from the living planet;
As if I had commited, against the whole scheme of life, a desecration.

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