Theodore Roethke’s poem “Root Cellar” is a chilling and eerie depiction of the dark, cold space beneath the ground that houses all of our most basic needs – our food. Through vivid imagery and haunting metaphors, Roethke explores themes of hunger, survival, and dependence on nature. Despite its grim subject matter, this poem is a powerful reflection on the interconnectedness between humans and the natural world. Whether you read it as a metaphor for life in general or simply enjoy its dark beauty and stark imagery, “Root Cellar” is sure to stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it.
Theodore Roethke was born and reared in Michigan, where cities and towns are crisscrossed by lakes, streams, and rivers. This environment fostered in him a “mystical respect for nature,” (McMichael, 1615) which allowed him to transmute a horrible image into natural grandeur.
Theodore Roethke’s poem “Root Cellar” is an excellent example of this. The poem describes a cellar that most people would consider terrible and unromantic. Rather than depicting the dungeon as frightening or gloomy, Roethke paints it with life and magic. In the first line, the narrator indicates that the cellar is alive.
“Something was alive down there” (Roethke, 1) The poem progresses to personify the root cellar itself. “The great doors opened” (6) and “The stairs creaked as I went down” (7). These are both things that a person would do, not an inanimate object. Theodore Roethke does an excellent job of taking an unappealing subject and making it appealing by using language that creates images in the reader’s mind.
The second line begins with a description of the plants, which remain in many boxes and search for any little bit of light to help them survive. The roots of the plants dangling from the crates that are packed into the tiny space are shown in the third, fourth, and fifth lines. The smell of the basement is acknowledged in line six. In line seven, we learn about plant root decay. The eighth line depicts the stems of the plants and gives them more dimensions. In line nine, we see how slippery the floor is.
The poem “Root Cellar” by Theodore Roethke explores the themes of struggle and perseverance in the face of death. Through vivid descriptions of the plants struggling to stay alive in a dark, cramped space, Roethke captures the resilience and determination that define human nature. Whether we are rooting for a plant or fighting for our own survival, we all have an inner desire to keep going despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And ultimately, it is this tenacity that gives us hope and helps us endure even the darkest moments in life.
The poet’s vividness in Roethke’s poem allows the reader to see every detail of the cellar. To help create his images, Roethke employs a number of literary styles. Metaphors and similes are figures of speech in which a word or phrase that normally refers to one thing is used to refer to another, implying a comparison. Metaphor and simile are interwoven throughout this poem. In The Calm after the Storm (1973), Roethke compares snake roots to plant roots, using both metaphor and simile in the same line.
Theodore Roethke’s poem “Root Cellar” creates a terrifying, yet beautiful image in the reader’s mind of a dark and dank root cellar. Theodore Roethke was born in Saginaw, Michigan in 1908. He spent a great amount of time on his grandparent’s farm as a child, which is where he developed a love of nature. After attending the University of Michigan and Harvard, he went on to teach at several different colleges. In 1963, he won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Root Cellar was published in his first book of poems, Open House (1941).
Dangled and drooped, the shots hung from mildewed crates, hanging down long yellow evil necks like tropical snakes. (1617) Personification is a literary device in which an inanimate thing is endowed with a human quality. This helps Roethke to create his images by giving the dirt on the basement floor life. Even the dirt breathed a little breath: Nothing would give up life; even the dirt kept breathing.
There, we would visit my grandparent’s house and explore the many wonders of their cellar. One aspect that stood out to me was how Roethke used a simple basement room to depict such feelings of fear, isolation, and even death. At first glance, the poem seems like any other mundane depiction of a dank basement. However, it is through Roethke’s masterful use of imagery that we are able to experience these complex emotions too.
Roethke’s poem “Root Cellar” is an incredibly powerful work that uses imagery and personification to explore deeper themes like fear, isolation, and even death. As he describes the basement with vivid detail – including giving dirt on the floor its own “breath” – we are able to experience these emotions alongside the speaker.
Even if we have never been in a basement like this before, Roethke’s poem allows us to understand what it might feel like to be trapped in a space like this. In just a few short lines, Theodore Roethke has given us a glimpse into the darkness that can exist in even the most mundane of places.
All these jaunts were similar in nature, with the exception of one: playing Bunco, catching fireflies, and taking a bath in her white ceramic bathtub. Each year it was fascinating to see how much I had developed and how difficult it was for me to fit into the tub.
The rest of my family bathed in the basement shower because there wasn’t enough room in the main bathroom. Roethke beautifully captures this moment in his poem’s first line: “Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch.” (1617) It was dark, dusty, and infested with spiders, so I didn’t want to go down the steps.
Roethke’s poem “Root Cellar” paints a vivid picture of the dark, dank space that served as not only his great-grandmother’s home but also as her bathtub. The cellar is described in the first line as being so damp and infested with spiders that it seems to be alive. Despite its unpleasant appearance, my great-grandmother loved this place and spent many years living there with her family.
Throughout her life, she continued to return each summer for Bunco night and to catch fireflies in the backyard. And every year, I marveled at how much I had grown compared to when I last visited, struggling to fit into the too-small tub like a fish out of water. Though the root cellar may have been an uninviting space, it holds many happy memories for me of my great-grandmother and our time spent together.
My parents decided it was time for me to start bathing in the dungeon when I was nine years old. Regardless of how much I despised being dragged into the spiderweb-lined pit, I had no choice but to begin my never-ending trip down the flight of stairs. Once there, I discovered that her entire basement was brimming with “treasures,” dating back to the early 1900s. My grandmother died a few years ago, and my mother’s family was forced on terrible financial straits as a result of it. Her house was sold due to death in my granny’s family.
It was while going through some of her things that I found an old poem by Theodore Roethke called “Root Cellar.” At first, I had no idea what the poem was about, but after reading it a few times, I began to see the hidden meaning behind Theodore’s words.
The poem starts off with the speaker talking about how he used to go down into the root cellar when he was younger. He talks about how the cellar is dark and filled with spider webs. The speaker then says that he would always find something new each time he went down there.
Theodore then goes on to talk about how the root cellar smells like death. He talks about how the vegetables in the cellar are rotting and the smell makes him sick. However, Theodore also talks about how the root cellar is a place of life. He talks about how the vegetables in the cellar are growing and the smell is actually a sign of life. Theodore then ends the poem with a question, asking if the root cellar is a place of death or life.
The hidden meaning behind Theodore’s poem “Root Cellar” is that life is full of ups and downs. There will be times when things are going great and there will be times when things are tough. However, it is important to remember that life always has something new to offer. Even in the darkest of times, there is always a ray of hope. Theodore’s poem is a reminder that no matter how tough life gets, we should never give up. There is always something worth fighting for.