Anthony Libby: On "North American Sequence"

The union here experienced is most often defined by metaphors of death and flow, usually combined. . . .

Throughout "North American Sequence" water that does not already surround the poet threatens and promises to submerge him, as he correspondingly internalizes it; in "The Far Field" as the water approaches the poet feels within himself "a weightless change, a moving forward / As of water quickening before a narrowing channel," and there follows the meditation on the "thought of my death."

This immersion, the flow into water or into earth, "flying like a bat deep into a narrowing tunnel," implies a mysticism opposed to the mysticism of transcendence not only because it is described in immediately physical terms and because it contains a deep ambivalence in its imagery of darkness and its more literal suggestions of death. Because the water which receives the poet is usually internalized, the image of movement into watery darkness also suggests, unlike the images of transcendence, a movement into the depths of the self, and "down into the consciousness of the race," as Roethke wrote in a 1946 letter to Kenneth Burke.


Title Anthony Libby: On "North American Sequence" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Anthony Libby Criticism Target Theodore Roethke
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 13 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Mythologies of Nothing: Mystical Death in American Poetry 1940-1970
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