I Knew a Woman

By Theodore Roethke 1908–1963 Theodore Roethke
I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;   
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:   
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I’d have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek).

How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,   
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand;   
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin;   
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;   
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing we did make).

Love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize;
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;   
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;   
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,   
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved).

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:   
I’m martyr to a motion not my own;
What’s freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.   
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:   
(I measure time by how a body sways).

Theodore Roethke, “I Knew a Woman” from Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke. Copyright 1954 by Theodore Roethke. Reprinted with the permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke (Random House Inc., 1961)

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Poet Theodore Roethke 1908–1963

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Love, Men & Women, The Body, Relationships, Nature, Romantic Love, Classic Love, Desire, Infatuation & Crushes

Occasions Engagement

Holidays Valentine's Day

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Theodore  Roethke

Biography

Theodore Roethke was hardly one who would have been expected to become a major American poet. Though as a child he read a great deal and as a high school freshman he had a Red Cross campaign speech translated into twenty-six languages, he strove to be accepted by peers who felt "brains were sissys." The insecurity that led him to drink to be "in with the guys" continued at the University of Michigan, where he adopted a tough, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Love, Men & Women, The Body, Relationships, Nature, Romantic Love, Classic Love, Desire, Infatuation & Crushes

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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