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By Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,

I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;   

I hear my echo in the echoing wood—

A lord of nature weeping to a tree.

I live between the heron and the wren,   

Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.


What’s madness but nobility of soul

At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!   

I know the purity of pure despair,

My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.   

That place among the rocks—is it a cave,   

Or winding path? The edge is what I have.


A steady storm of correspondences!

A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,   

And in broad day the midnight come again!   

A man goes far to find out what he is—

Death of the self in a long, tearless night,   

All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.


Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.   

My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,   

Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?

A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.   

The mind enters itself, and God the mind,   

And one is One, free in the tearing wind.


Theodore Roethke, "In a Dark Time" from Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke.  Copyright © 1963 by Beatrice Roethke, Administratrix of the Estate of Theodore Roethke.  Used by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Source: The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke (Doubleday, 1961)

Poet Bio

Many of Theodore Roethke's finest poems evoke the plant and insect life he knew intimately growing up in Michigan around the greenhouses of his family’s floral business. Troubled throughout adulthood by mental instability and alcoholism, he often dwells on his psyche’s vulnerability, but also shows a deft comic touch in treating familial and erotic relationships. From 1948 until his death, he was a legendary teacher at the University of Washington; his posthumous collection The Far Field won the 1964 National Book Award.

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