Theodore Roethke Biography

(Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet)

Birthday: May 25, 1908 (Gemini)

Born In: Saginaw, Michigan

Theodore Huebner Roethke was an American poet who is regarded as one of the most influential poets of his generation. He is famous for the intricate work that he produced in his lifetime—elaborative in human emotions, extensive in introspection and artistically woven with natural imagery. His works like ‘The Waking’, ‘Words for the Wind’ and ‘The Far Field’ have been critically appreciated for their reflective quality and won him prestigious awards like, the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, the National Book Award for Poetry, etc. Roethke spent most of his life teaching at different educational institutes, writing for various publications and compiling his own work. He taught at the Lafayette College, the Michigan State College, the Pennsylvania State University, etc. and wrote for publications like—‘Poetry’, ‘Saturday Review’, ‘New Republic’, etc. Roethke suffered from manic depression and drinking problem throughout his adult life, a probable scar gathered from his childhood experience of losing his father to cancer and his uncle’s suicide at the same time. The incident made the young Roethke a recluse who looked at nature to find solace, which ultimately shaped his psyche and his creativity for life.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Theodore Huebner Roethke

Died At Age: 55


father: Otto

Quotes By Theodore Roethke Poets

Died on: August 1, 1963

place of death: Bainbridge Island, Washington

Diseases & Disabilities: Depression

U.S. State: Michigan

More Facts

education: Arthur Hill High School, University of Michigan, Harvard University

awards: 1954 - Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
1959 - National Book Award for Poetry
1965 - National Book Award for Poetry

Childhood & Early Life
Theodore Roethke was born on May 25, 1908 in Michigan to Otto Roethke and Helen Huebner. His father was a market-gardener who owned a large greenhouse. Roethke grew up around the Saginaw River and spent most of his time in the greenhouse.
He attended the Aurthur Hill High School. In1923, at the age of 14, his close uncle’s suicide and father’s death because of cancer shook his life. This event is said to have shaped Roethke’s lifelong psyche and creativity.
In 1925, Roethke got enrolled in the University of Michigan. His family wanted him to have a legal career but he quit law school only after the first semester. He later attended Harvard University to study under a poet.
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Because of the great financial and social impact of the Great Depression, Roethke had to leave Harvard and teach at Lafayette College from 1931 to 1935. It was here that he started working on his first book, ‘Open House’.
By the end of 1935, he started teaching at Michigan State College but could not live up to the pressures of it and suffered from an episode of mental breakdown. It gave him time to explore his writing caliber.
Roethke started teaching at the Pennsylvania State University in 1936, where his reputation as a poet was established. He taught in this university for seven years and side by side, got published in prominent publications like, ‘Poetry’, ‘Saturday Review’, ‘etc.
In 1941, his first book, ‘Open House’, was published and got rave reviews in publications like, ‘New Yorker’, ‘Kenyon Review’, ‘Atlantic’, etc. His work showed influences from writers like, Emily Dickinson, Louise Bogan, Stanley Kuntiz, etc.
Roethke was asked by Harvard to deliver on their esteemed Morris Gray lectures in 1942. In 1943, started teaching at the Bennington College and it was here that he started writing, ‘The Lost Son and Other Poems’.
In the 1950s, he wrote books like, ‘Praise to the End! (1951)’, ‘The Waking (1953)’, etc. In most of these works, Roethke explored sexuality and eroticism. He was awarded Guggenheim Fellowship and the Poetry Magazine Levinson Prize.
During 1957, Roethke travelled to Europe and started collecting poems for his new book ‘Words For The Winds’— a collection of forty-three poems. He won many awards for it—Bollingen Prize, the National Book Award, etc.
In the 1960s, he published work like, ‘I Am! Says The Lamb (1961)’, ‘Party at the Zoo (1963)’—A Modern Masters Book for Children and ‘The Far Field (1964)’. The last one was released posthumously.

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Major Works
‘Words For The Winds’, a collection of forty-three poems published in 1958, is considered to be Roethke’s most prominent work, and he won many prestigious awards for it.
Awards & Achievements
Roethke was awarded with various literary awards for his poems. He won most of these awards in the 1950s—Pulitzer Prize for ‘The Waking’, National Book Award for ‘Words For The Wind’ and ‘The Far Field’, and Guggenheim Fellowship.
Other awards included— Poetry magazine Levinson Prize, major grants from the Ford Foundation and the National Institute of Arts and Letters, Bollingen Prize, Edna St. Vincent Millay Prize, Longview Foundation Award, Pacific Northwest Writer's Award, etc.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1953, Roethke got married to Beatrice O’Connell. He got acquainted with her for the first time while teaching at the Bennington. After marriage he spent a couple of years honeymooning with her at W.H Auden’s villa in Italy.
He died on August 1, 1963 after suffering from a heart attack in his friend S. Rasnics’ swimming pool, on Bainbridge Island, Washington. He was 55 years old at the time.
When Roethke married O’Connell, he told her nothing about his lifelong problem with manic depression. He was a heavy drinker and from time to time suffered from grave bouts of depression.
His work greatly influenced Writer Sylvia Plath.

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