Week 304: Dolor, by Theodore Roethke

A poem that may strike a chord with anyone who has spent their working life in an office, though inevitably it could with a bit of updating to reflect the more modern joys of open plan, computer crashes, hot desking and so on. 


I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper-weight,
All the misery of manila folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplication of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.

Theodore Roethke

Week 245: The Shy Man, by Theodore Roethke

I have never quite made my mind up about the work of the American poet Theodore Roethke (1908-1963). I find the musicality of his verse captivating, but when it comes to tone and substance somehow I don’t quite ‘get’ him: the poems come across to me as a bit fey, as not quite earthed. But I do like the way his lines move. See what you think.  

The Shy Man

The full moon was shining upon the broad sea;
I sang to the one star that looked down at me;
I sang to the white house that grazed on the quay, –
As I walked by the high sea-wall.
But my lips they,
My lips they,
Said never a word,
As I moped by the high sea-wall.

The curlew’s slow night song came on the water.
That tremble of sweet notes set my heart astir,
As I walked beside her, the O’Connell’s daughter,
I knew that I did love her.
But my lips they,
My lips they
Said never a word,
As we walked by the high sea-wall.

The full moon has fallen, the night wind is down
And I lie here thinking in bleak Bofin town,
I lie here and thinking, ‘I am not alone’
For here close beside me is O’Connell’s daughter,
And my lips they, my lips they,
Say many a word,
As we embrace by the high sea-wall.
O! my lips they, my lips they
Say many a word,
As we kiss by the high sea-wall.

Theodore Roethke