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Poetry anyalsis of the “Root Cellar”

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After reading the poem written by Theodore Roethke, entitled Root Cellar, I envisioned a dark, scary, ghost story. The poem was very understandable to read and on the surface it explains vegetables in a root cellar. The text has a literal meaning of that but the figurative language Roethke used in his poem painted a very different picture then a plan root cellar. I saw dead and living things in the dark. I believe the poem Root Cellar is about more than just an underground pantry of vegetables, but instead Roethke is trying to tell a story of a scary place where things were still leaving and he was frightened of this place.

Voice, language, and imagery in Theodore Roethke’s Root Cellar gave the feeling of horror and disgust. Roethke explains it is a dark looming place, smelly and old. The poem filled with words such as “dank”, “dark”, and “manure”. These words have a pessimistic tone. He hated the place he was speaking of. I believe the poem portraits a place where ghost are inhabited and Roethke is afraid and wishes to not go there.

The title of the poem is Root Cellar. A root cellar is built on to a farmhouse and is used as nature’s way of storing fruits and vegetables and anything that needs to stay cooled. They can be excellent storage areas for other things as well. Unlike a basement a root cellar is not accessible from the house. You must leave the house to enter the root cellar. In this case things can be hidden away from public view. Secret things could have been going on down there that few could have ever see or know about.

When Roethke says “nothing would sleep” in the first line, I started to imagine ghost or half dead things still living not resting. Then he describes the cellars environment by calling it “dank as a ditch” (1). The word dank means damp or humid. This descriptive word gives the feeling of a place that is not comfortable to stay in. The environment was different then normal conditions and Roethke did not like to go down there and when had to, he did not linger down there long.

The description of the bulbs “hunting for chinks in the dark”(2) is a great picture to imagine. Hunt means to pursue so as to capture, and chinks are a narrow opening like a crack. This line supports the idea of a ghost story because it is commonly known that ghost hunt or haunt in the dark. Chinks can refer to ghost looking for a place out because they are refined to a certain place to haunt.

When I think of ghost, I envision white sheets and chains hanging off them, and them moving in a relaxed hunched way like zombies. In lines three and four Roethke further supported my thesis that the Root Cellar is about ghost; “shoots dangled and drooped” (3), “lolling obscenely from mildewed crates” (4). Dangled and drooped is pretty clear to relate to ghost and the word lolling means to recline in a relaxed way, which is talking about the ghost motion. Obscenely is defined as to be offensive to accepted standards. Ghosts are definitely offensive and not acceptable. People well sometimes move to a new home if they think a ghost inhabits their place. Mildew is normally found in root cellars or damp places but the fact that it can fill the room with an awful smell. Roethke pointed out the mildewed crates not only to give descriptive picture of the sight but also to give the reader a smell of in that cellar. Everyone can identify with what mildew looks and smells like.

The next line Roethke describes the “things” living in that root cellar as “long yellow evil necks”(5). Evil is a very strong word to use to be talking just about produce. I think Roethke was frightened by that root cellar and knew something more was down there. Evil means morally bad, wicked, and harmful. Ghosts are believed to be bad spirits. Not everyone who dies becomes a ghost, ghosts are seen as those who passed and are now back to revenge their death and cause harm to the one who is responsible for it.

Root Cellar is an eleven line long poem and in the middle line Roethke makes a straight statement and ends with an explication mark. “And what a congress of stinks!”(6). The use of the explication mark makes this a very strong statement. The word congress, means a formal assembly to discuss problems. I find it very proving to the theme of ghost and other unwanted things. If Roethke wanted to call the produce in the root cellar a group or bunch he would have but instead he used the term congress which although is “formal” it still holds a negative interpretation from the audience because of its classification. Stinks is again a reference to the smell of the root cellar and it is not a positive. With the reputation of bad smelling terms and the explication mark at the end of this line leaves the reader to sense that Roethke is serious and is now stressing his negative feeling and fear toward the root cellar.

Ghosts tend to stay around and haunt and torment the living unless you get someone to exterminate him or her. In the line “roots ripe as old bait” (7) Roethke is not talking about roots of the vegetables but is referring to the ghost. Bait is a lure, and can also mean to tease or torment. The ghosts were fully prepared and were ridiculing in that cellar. Ripe easily refers to fruits and vegetables but its plain definition states; sufficiently advanced, mature, and opportune. These ghosts were not a new addition to this cellar but are “old”. They have been down there for a long time and are quite ready and “ripe” for anyone to come in.

I suppose if you believe in ghost then you have some idea of what they are made of. Some say they are nothing and can go through walls, and others believe they are slimy or gross like movies make them out to be, but then again all living things are different then there is probably different kinds of ghost. Roethke goes on to describing “pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich” (8). Pulp is the soft and moist part of a vegetable or fruit but really I think he just using metaphoric terms to describe the ghosts. Their insides, like produce, could have a soft gooey consistency. Rank can be referring to the smell again or how the ghosts are growing profusely, like the definition of rank states, and/or how Roethke’s fear of that root cellar is getting stronger.

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