Elegy For Jane

(My student, thrown by a horse)

I remember the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils;
And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel smile;
And how, once started into talk, the light syllables leaped for her.
And she balanced in the delight of her thought,
A wren, happy, tail into the wind,
Her song trembling the twigs and small branches.
The shade sang with her;
The leaves, their whispers turned to kissing,
And the mould sang in the bleached valleys under the rose.

Oh, when she was sad, she cast herself down into such a pure depth,
Even a father could not find her:
Scraping her cheek against straw,
Stirring the clearest water.
My sparrow, you are not here,
Waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.
The sides of wet stones cannot console me,
Nor the moss, wound with the last light.

If only I could nudge you from this sleep,
My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon.
Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
I, with no rights in this matter,
Neither father nor lover.

by Theodore Roethke

Comments (9)

With all the rhetoric surrounding women’s rights these days, I’ve been thinking about this poem a lot. My sister was in college when I was asked, in 5th grade, to analyze a poem for the first time. To me, Aunt Jennifer has always been the woman who couldn’t escape the husband she was afraid of, even in death. She made the tiger panels to remind her niece of her plight, and encourage her to avoid a similar fate. In other words, I think the message of the poem is a combination of “be careful who you marry” and “learn from the mistakes of previous generations of women”. Hear me roar!
Aunt Jennifer's life is clearly an unfavourable one: the ring sits heavily upon her hand, suggesting that her marriage isn't happy. In the last stanza, the poem says that 'When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie / Still ringed with ordeals that she was mastered by' (lines 9 and 10) . I also think that the word 'lie' is suggestive of more than one interpretation. The hands will lay on her chest, clasped together, and they will appear fine. But, in this respect, they are also lying to pretend that everything is alright. The fact that her hands are ringed with these ordeals-not plagued or suffered, but 'ring'ed-also suggests that her marriage is an unhappy one. She's living in an androcentric world; men are the center of attention and the important decision makers. As for the tigers that she knits into her panel, I believe they represent power, might, and freedom. From her feminine perspective-a perspective that is undoubtedly kept within her soul because of her oppression-they represent a future that she wishes for; one that is filled with 'sleek chivalric certainty' (line 4) and one where she can 'pranc[e], proud and unafraid' (line 12) . To answer your question, no, they are not live tigers.
I remember reading this poem in school and how everyone just assumed the weight of her husband's ring was because of something negative regarding her husband. It occured to me since Ms Rich comes from a Jewish heritage, perhaps Aunt Jennifer may be Jewish. I recalled a movie i saw once about Nazi Germany and how this young man's job was to deliver a wooden box. Everytime he did as he left he heard the screams of the women come out their house. He got curious and opened a box and inside was ash and a wedding ring. I thought perhaps the weight of her husband's ring could be due to grief
This poem is almost beyond poetry. Any analysis is foolish.
Aunt Jennifer is laik r8 banging yo's
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