Theodore Roethke grew up in Saginaw, Michigan, where in his spare time he helped his father in the family's florist business. By working with plants and flowers he developed a love of nature, which was reflected in his first book of poems, Open House, published in 1941. After graduating from the University of Michigan and Harvard, Roethke taught in a number of universities and, like many contemporary poets, he continued to write poetry while teaching. His volume of poetry, The Waking: Poems 1933-1953 won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953, and his collected poems, Words For The Wind, won the National Book Award in 1959. His last volume, The Far Field, was awarded the same prize in 1964 posthumously.
Roethke's work has been called "personal, lyrical, and spontaneous." He has been highly praised by contemporary critics, some of whom consider him to have been one of the three or four best poets writing in the United States at mid-century. Of himself Roethke has said: "I have a genuine love of nature¡K A perception of nature¡Xno matter how delicate, how subtle, how evanescent¡Xremains with me forever." His poems about natural subjects are, however, not simply "nature poems" in the objective sense. Rather, they mirror the poet's own inner struggles¡Xthe alternate heights and depths of his emotion. An extremely skillful technician, Roethke manipulated rhyme and rhythm with such competence that the reader often senses the meaning of a poem emotionally before he has grasped it intellectually.
Contrary to many contemporary poets who display feelings of alienation and abandonment
and who search for deeper sources of feeling and knowledge, Roethke succeeded in facing up
to the terrors of modern life by expressing a kind of joyful defiance:
"We think by feeling, what is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow".