Indelicate is he who loathes
The aspect of his fleshy clothes, —
The flying fabric stitched on bone,
The vesture of the skeleton,
The garment neither fur nor hair,
The cloak of evil and despair,
The veil long violated by
Caresses of the hand and eye.
Yet such is my unseemliness:
I hate my epidermal dress,
The savage blood’s obscenity,
The rags of my anatomy,
And willingly would I dispense
With false accouterments of sense,
To sleep immodestly, a most
Incarnadine and carnal ghost.
-Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)
A lot of people seem to think that all poets are depressed, mentally disturbed, suicidal blokes with a degree in Literature. Sure that’s almost true; but like most of us, these guys are merely looking for an avenue in order to explore life’s facets that cannot be explained.
Poetry is a way of expressing one’s self and understand the different aspects of life – its depth, what cannot be comprehended by the human mind alone. Somehow, it serves as a therapeutic outlet – because no matter what we do, we are surrounded by unexplainable things; driving us to an unwilling naivety.
I believe this was the case of Theodore Roethke – hailed the greatest American poet, who during his lifetime has questioned life, the spirit world, and what consists in between. Sure he did go mad, but his poetry somehow became an explanation not only to him, but to those who are inquisitive enough to explore such complex themes.
Whether the spirit world is indeed in existent or not, Roethke has expressed his curiosity in many of his poems – one of which is the Epidermal Macabre. To experience what lies beyond by unchaining himself from life was expressed in the lines 10-14, “I hate my epidermal dress/ the savage blood’s obscenity… And willingly would I dispense with false accouterments of sense/ to sleep immodestly.
He would rather “sleep immodestly” than wear “the rags of [his] anatomy”.
Roethke once said that “the spiritual man must go back in order to go forward.” This idea of waning from life is his way of saying that to rid of “the cloak of evil and despair” is a path to a purer soul.
Yes, Theodore Roethke does fit the stereotypical poet – mad, depressed, has a degree on his belt; but his poems are far from metaphoric ramblings. In order to fathom the connections of life, nature, and the whole universe, he utilized poetry instead, and how we humans are part of the whole accord.