The Analysis of the Poem “Root Cellar” by Theodore Roethke from the Side of Stylistics

Poetry is a language of feelings. People write poems to express their feelings, emotions, to share their attitude to people, nature lovers, and other items. Poetry is very abstract, symbolical in most cases. Poets try to express what they want with the help of different stylistic devices and means of expression to make their poetry more emotional and touching. Abstract notions make people use imagination, associate what they read with life and direct them to try to find the real meaning of the poem, to identify its aim.

“In some ways reading poetry is much like reading fiction: we observe details of action and language, make connections and inferences, and draw conclusions” (DiYanni 2005-519) We are going to analyze the poem “Root Cellar” by Theodore Roethke. We should not forget that “without a good deal of knowledge about poetry and considerable practice in reading it, judgments about the aesthetic worth of particular poems need to be made with caution.” (DiYanni 2005-514)

“Root Cellar” by Theodore Roethke is an eleven lines poem that expresses the author’s attitude to life and wants to deliver this attitude to the reader.

The poet gives us the description of a cellar in his “Root Cellar”. The description is rather pessimistic and gloomy. The cellar, in our opinion, is associated with life. When Theodore Roethke describes the cellar with such words as “lolling”, “dark”, “mildewed”, “drooped”, “broke”, “evil”, he means some troubles in people’s life. He describes life from the most pessimistic side; he wants to show the worst life he could imagine to tell people that it is not a reason to finish it. The last two lines confirm our guesses:

Nothing would give up life:

Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath. (DiYanni 2005).

The author wanted to tell that any problems, no matter how terrible they seem from first sight, are not the reason to stop living, it is not the reason to prevent you from such a great opportunity, given by God, to live.

The images, presented in the poem help the reader to understand what the author wanted to say. We read not about a “cellar” but about a life which can be like a cellar, dark and horrible. The cellar is the symbol of life. The life of every person may be hard, every person may face some difficulties and tragedies in their life and the life of people may be like that cellar in the poem, dark and terrible, but it is not the end. “Nothing” would make a person “give up life”. (DiYanni 2005)

The author uses simile at the very beginning of the poem, in the first line, to underline his negative attitude to the cellar, to show that he also perceives life as something problematic, but still he continues his life and prevents us from thoughtless actions. The simile makes our imagination work faster and to imagine that “dank as a ditch” cellar.

The other simile is “evil necks, like tropical snakes” the author uses to create the horrible effect. “Evil necks”, “tropical snakes” – all these word combinations are aimed to frighten us, to make us imagine the cellar as something terrible where it is impossible to live.

The usage of metaphors strikes our attention. With the help of metaphors, the author tries to deliver readers with a negative perception of the cellar. All the metaphors he uses are with negative meanings.

All these stylistic devices aim to show the horrible cellar. Then the author makes the parallel between the cellar and life and tries to convince people that their life is much better than he has depicted. Life is so great that it should not be finished only because one episode brings you some problems.

The author uses repetitions to maintain his attitude to the idea to “give up life”. He writes that “nothing” could be the reason to do that. The first “nothing’ is rather strong as it is the very first word in the poem. The other “nothing” is also rather provocative as it is given as the first word of the last line. So, the reader has an impression that every word is given with reflection of “nothing”. Nothing may occur in people’s lives to make them finish it. No matter how dark, terrible life is, how much evil is there.

The punctuation also plays not the last part. There is only one exclamatory mark, but it gives the tone for the whole poem. The line

And what a congress of stinks! (DiYanni 2005)

makes an impression that there is everything wrong in that cellar, that all evil that could be imagined is represented there. The author gives us the vision that all evil is not only assisted at that cellar but also is in a very close connection.

So, the poem is rather strong in the tone relation. The author represents the worst picture of life to show people that it is possible to live in such conditions and nothing may happen to be the reason to give it up. The author’s usage of different stylistic devices and means of expression makes it possible to the reader to understand the whole image that the author wanted to deliver to him/her.

Works Cited

DiYanni, Robert. Literature: Reading Fiction Poetry and Drama. McGraw-Hill College, 2005.

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