Document Type


Date of Award



Theodore Roethke, American poetry, Criticism and interpretation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


English, General Literature, and Rhetoric

First Advisor

John V. Hagopian

Second Advisor

Robert Kroetsch

Third Advisor

Arthur L. Clements




When I turned to study the modern poets a few years ago, Theodore Roethke's voice rang most clearly and most convincingly. The poet's untimely death in 1963 made his canon complete; by then Roethke had been awarded most of the major poetry prizes offered in this country, and it seemed likely that his status as a “major” poet would demand that close attention be paid to his more difficult poems. Turning to the criticism we find, however, that (with a few significant exceptions) attention to the poems is neglected in favor of arguments about the poet's originality or lack of it.

Shortly after I had "found" Roethke I became I involved in some work on Information Theory. This theory seemed to offer insights into the very problem Roethke criticism is caught up in--that of poetic originality. Although literary theorists have long been concerned with the relation between the old and the new in art, Information Theory offered scientific support for those who maintain that both elements are present in a successful artistic product. Combining my two interests, I undertook this study in order to help rid Roethke criticism of its excessive concern with the poet's derivativeness. If successful, this study may help to clear the critical air so that the Job of explicating and evaluating Roethke's work can take a more productive direction.