- Stephen Altman
Let's take the time this Scrapbook Friday to be awed by a great poem: “The Dream,” by Theodore Roethke. No poet of whom I'm aware could do more with everyday words and perhaps two or three dozen generic objects and phenomena drawn from nature. In his hands they are all mysterious. Roethke--poor, troubled Roethke--is one of my half-dozen favorite poets.
I met her as a blossom on a stem Before she ever breathed, and in that dream The mind remembers from a deeper sleep: Eye learned from eye, cold lip from sensual lip. My dream divided on a point of fire; Light hardened on the water where we were; A bird sang low; the moonlight sifted in; The water rippled, and she rippled on.
She came toward me in the flowing air, A shape of change, encircled by its fire. I watched her there, between me and the moon; The bushes and the stones danced on and on; I touched her shadow when the light delayed; I turned my face away, and yet she stayed. A bird sang from the center of a tree; She loved the wind because the wind loved me.
Love is not love until love's vulnerable. She slowed to sigh, in that long interval. A small bird flew in circles where we stood; The deer came down, out of the dappled wood. All who remember, doubt. Who calls that strange? I tossed a stone, and listened to its plunge. She knew the grammar of least motion, she Lent me one virtue, and I live thereby.
She held her body steady in the wind; Our shadows met, and slowly swung around; She turned the field into a glittering sea; I played in flame and water like a boy And I swayed out beyond the white seafoam; Like a wet log, I sang within a flame. In that last while, eternity's confine, I came to love, I came into my own.
I knew better than to search for an image that might accent in any literal way the magic of this poem. So here's a cell phone photo I took this past April of irises from my garden. As for the great Roethke, here's a link from the Poetry Foundation website: