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The Existential Character of Theodore Roethke's Natural Imagery: Kierkegaard, Vitalism, and Generative Paradox
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This thesis provides an original analysis of the writings of American poet Theodore Roethke (1908-1963). Specifically, this thesis argues that in order to be more fully understood Roethke’s writings ought to be examined within an existential philosophical context, and not merely within literary, psychoanalytic, or ecocritical contexts. Towards this end, this thesis provides an abundance of original research that exposes the existential influences that impressed themselves upon Theodore Roethke and that shaped his identity as a poet. It argues that Danish existentialist Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) exerted a particularly strong influence on Roethke, and thus an extensive amount of time is spent connecting Kierkegaard and Roethke and showing how Roethke’s writing reflects elements of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, especially on the issues of anxiety, despair, and paradox. Additionally, this thesis also demonstrates how Roethke’s writing, especially in his poetry of death, struggle, and natural growth, contains a sense of resurgent dynamism akin to that which is found in the tradition of vitalism, and it shows that understanding Roethke within this tradition helps us to understanding him more broadly as an existential poet. Ultimately this thesis provides an original analysis of Roethke as an existential poet, and it shows how Roethke’s readings of philosophy, and especially of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, directly influenced the existential character of his poetry. Drawing this connection – which is done in more detail in this thesis than in any previous work of Roethke scholarship – allows for many of Roethke’s recurring poetic themes, such as growth, death, paradox, and pedagogy to be understood in a more complete, more philosophically contextualized way.
Black, Christopher David (2019). The Existential Character of Theodore Roethke's Natural Imagery: Kierkegaard, Vitalism, and Generative Paradox. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from