Here is another poem that I love and has very vivid imagery, but can’t really figure out.
Does he hate this place that is “dank as a ditch” and a “congress of stink”? Are his eyes offended by the sight of the shoots “lolling obscenely from mildewed crates/…[with] long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes”? By the smell as “ripe as old bait” or the leaf-mold, manure and lime “piled against slippery planks”? This is a place where nothing sleeps which sounds like a line out of an old, bad horror film – the place of the undead. Even the adjectives are the same. Or…
But then I get to the last two lines “Nothing would give up life:/Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.” And it turns. A poem about the tenacity of life. And then all of that talk of stink and mold and manure seems to be about the origins of where we began: the ugly grimy, pea-soup that begat the one day Princes of the world. From this stink and mud would come cathedrals, Monet’s Water Lilies, Fermat’s theorem, Shakespeare’s sonnets, the delicate, textured smells of Obsession by Ralph Lauren, Madam Butterfly’s aria and Theodore Roethke’s “Root Cellar”.
Very confusing. But then again, so is life.
by Theodore Roethke
Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks! —
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.