D. McClatchy: On "The Lost Son"

The mingled awe and fear in the image of his father, arrested by death, inspires both the terrible dependence and longing, and a terrifying sense of guilt in his own autoerotic urges, both of which paralyse the necessary struggle for psychic and sexual identity—the "spiritual crisis" of the poems. The opening section of "The Lost Son," which fishes in "an old wound," deals with this "hard time," associating the death of his father and the discovery of the phallus:

 

Voice, come out of the silence.

Say something.

Appear in the form of a spider

Or a moth beating the curtain . . .

 

The shape of a rat!

        It's bigger than that.

        It's less than a leg

        And more than a nose,

        Just under the water

        It usually goes . . .

 

        Take the skin of a cat

        And the back of an eel,

        Then roll them in grease,—

        That's the way it would feel.

 

And the cycle of need and guilt, of discovery and repression, informs the rest of the poem:

 

Dogs of the groin

Barked and howled,

The sun was against me,

The moon would not have me.

 

The weeds whined,

The snakes cried,

The cows and briars

Said to me: Die . . .

 

What gliding shape

Beckoning through halls,

Stood poised on the stair,

Fell dreamily down?

 

From the mouths of jugs

Perched on many shelves,

I saw substance flowing

That cold morning.

 

The guilt at his hands' "perpetual agitation," the childhood fears of castration and the adult fears of impotence, alternate with defiant gestures to taunt or exorcize the guilt—usually expressed in terms of exposing his nakedness.

Details

Title D. McClatchy: On "The Lost Son" 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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