D. McClatchy: On "Frau Bauman, Frau Schmidt Frau Schwartze"

The Lost Son and Other Poems established both the reputation Roethke craved and the world of his imagination— with its greenhouse and its field, bounded by The City and The Abyss. Not only did it inaugurate important technical innovations, but it also exposed the raw center of his dilemma: the consequences of self-consciousness and the inability to construct an identity. But it is important to note first the arrangement of the volume, for the so-called "greenhouse poems" with which it begins ground the series of long poems in one half of Roethke’s effort to escape the self-consciousness that torments the four anchor poems—and for that matter, the ten which follow in his next two collections. This initial group of detailed, sensuous poems seeks to recreate the "manmade Avalon, Eden, or paradise" of his father’s greenhouse. The last poem of the group, "Frau Bauman, Frau Schmidt, and Frau Schwartze," though added later, sets the retrospective tone of the sequence


Now, when I’m alone and cold in my bed,

They still hover over me,

These ancient leathery crones,

With their bandannas stiffened with sweat,

And their thorn-bitten wrists,

And their snuffladen breath blowing lightly over

    me in my first sleep.


The reimagining not only seeks to evoke the security of childhood, of his "Eden." The poet seeks further to submerge himself in the natural, unconscious process of organic life


I can hear, underground, that sucking and sobbing,

In my veins, in my bones I feel it,—

The small waters seeping upward,

The tight grains parting at last

When sprouts break out,

Slippery as fish,

I quail, lean to beginnings, sheath-wet. (37)


Title D. McClatchy: On "Frau Bauman, Frau Schmidt Frau Schwartze" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author D. McClatchy Criticism Target Theodore Roethke
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 13 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Sweating Light from a Stone: Identifying Theodore Roethke
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