Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Analysis of "In a Dark Time" by Theodore Roethke

Original poem reprinted online here: "In a Dark Time" by Theodore Roethke
Originally read: May 25, 2013
More information about the Poet: Theodore Roethke



The rhyme scheme for these sestets are kind of off.  The last couplets for each stanza have monosyllabic apparent rhymes; meanwhile, the abba rhyme scheme for the first four lines of each stanza are off.  Not exact rhymes, not even sight rhymes, but connected through a single letter like a strong "r" or an "n."  And even then I feel like I'm stretching the form of the poem like in the first line of this poem, "In a dark time, the eye begins to see."  The speaker isn't necessarily in the dark -- the focus here is a time frame that is described as dark in which the speaker meets his "shadow" in the deepening, "shade."  All these references allude to a direct Jungian psychology.  The speaker is meeting the hidden self.

Yet the meeting in itself is framed within repetition ("I hear my echo in the echoing wood--")  and displacement, "I live between the heron and the wren, / Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den."  The speaker places himself in the middle of these repetitions and oppositions to be able to see and observe on both, and then remark.

"What's madness but nobility of soul / At odd with circumstance?"  A strong rhetoric line, but not necessarily the core of the poem.  The poem plays with the idea of madness and circumstance like how the poem plays on the idea of shadow, repetition and displacement -- cursory.  Cursory so that can remark and also comprehend what is going on, "I know the purity of pure despair," or the next line, "That place among the rocks--is it a cave / Or winding path?"  And since the poem is more allusive heavy, I'm feeling the cave image here refers to the allegory of the cave, and the winding path here refers to "The Road Not Taken" by Frost.  Or it could be.  The rate the speaker spirals between techniques.

Then exclamations.  The opposing nature images are starting to become more apparent as the setting of the night continues on.  "A steady storm of correspondences!"  Who is corresponding?  That doesn't matter actually -- what matters is the speaker is interpreting the experiences further into the night.  Gone  are the questions in the third stanza (which echos the first) rather the speaker appropriating the rhetoric to his purpose, "A man goes far to find out what he is--" and what he's going through, "Death of the self in a long, tearless night / All natural shapes blazing unnatural light."

And when the rhymes hit, they hit as a sort of anchoring device in the poem.  The couplet refocuses the speaker's madness, but then sanity is lost again each stanza, "Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire."  The alliteration of this first line pounds in the mixture of light and darkness, and the soul.  And the rhetorical question, "Which I is I?" in its earnestness and vulnerability is punctuated by the last two lines which doesn't answer the question.

"The mind enters itself, and God the mind, / And one is One, free in the tearing wind."  Note how the last two lines uses most of the techniques announced in the poem, repetition, displacement through connotation, image, self and in doing so repeats and condenses the cycle of doubt.

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