Places: The Far Field

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1964

Type of work: Poetry

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Cape May

*Cape Far Field, TheMay. Peninsula located on the southern tip of New Jersey well known as a beach resort, Cape May has a lighthouse at the entrance to Delaware Bay. Although Roethke refers to bird shapes when he uses this word, many of his particular images echo the peninsular landscape. The poet travels throughout the peninsula to the field’s end, where he discovers evidence of death and detritus. The shallows of the river, the sea, and the mountain all reveal to the poet that death is not the final step, but a period of renewal. Even in a mossy quagmire, the poet believes that the end of life is not the final experience–rather, that life goes on.

A peninsula juts out like a finger into a body of water; thus it experiences water on three sides. As Roethke experienced great despair during his life, the peninsula as a symbol reaches out as the poet catalogs the many forms of life that occupy the peninsula. Symbolized by this peninsula, the waters of the world are as much the poet’s landscape as is the land itself. Memory itself houses the encyclopedic well from which each person draws. The peninsula is ultimately life-embracing; although living things die within its borders, this death is not permanent.

BibliographyHeyen, William, ed. Profile of Theodore Roethke. Westerville, Ohio. Charles E. Merrill, 1971. Includes eight major studies of Roethke’s work.Kalaidjian, Walter B. Understanding Theodore Roethke. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987. All the major collections of Roethke’s poems are discussed in this book, which begins with an overview and ends with two chapters devoted to The Far Field. Excellent bibliography.Malkoff, Karl. Theodore Roethke: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966. Discusses the major themes in Roethke’s poetry and the influences of T. S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, and others, tracing Roethke’s poetic development to its conclusion in The Far Field.Roethke, Theodore. The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke. Garden City, N.J.: Anchor Press, 1975. This standard edition contains all the poems from previous books by Roethke except the verse from a book written for children. Previously unpublished poems dating from 1943 to 1962 are also included.Sullivan, Rosemary. Theodore Roethke: The Garden Master. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1975. Sheds light on the relation of Roethke’s personal life to his poetry, and the discussion of “North American Sequence” illuminates the symbols and images of that work.
Categories: Places