May 27, 2002

I Knew a Woman

by Theodore Roethke

MONDAY, 27 MAY 2002
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "I Knew A Woman," by Theodore Roethke from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke (Anchor).

I Knew A Woman

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I'd have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek).

How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand;
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin;
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing we did make).

Love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize;
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved).

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:
I'm martyr to a motion not my own;
What's freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways).

Memorial Day has been observed in the United States since 1869 for the purpose of strewing flowers or decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country in the Civil War.

It's the birthday of poet Linda Pastan, born in New York City (1932). Her first collection was A Perfect Circle of Sun (1971).

It's the birthday of postmodern novelist John Barth, born in Cambridge, Maryland (1930). He's the author of The Floating Opera (1956), The Sot-Weed Factor (1960), Giles Goat-Boy, or The Revised Syllabus (1966), and other books.

It's the birthday of crime writer Tony Hillerman, born in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma (1925). He's the author of many books, including mysteries featuring Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, a Navajo tribal policeman.

It's the birthday of novelist Herman Wouk, born in New York City (1915), author of The Caine Mutiny (1951), and Marjorie Morningstar (1955).

It's the birthday of writer John Cheever, born in Quincy, Massachusetts (1912). He's famous for his short stories portraying the lives, manners and morals of suburban, middle-class America. One of his best known stories is "The Swimmer," in which a middle-aged Connecticut man makes his way home one afternoon by swimming from pool to pool, in the back yards of his neighbors. He also wrote 4 novels, including The Wapshot Chronicle (1957) and Falconer (1977). He died in 1982.

It's the birthday of marine biologist and author Rachel Carson, born in Springdale, Pennsylvania (1907). Her book Silent Spring (1962), an indictment of the wanton use of pesticides, introduced the concept of ecology to the general population.

It's the birthday of novelist Dashiell Hammett, born in St. Mary's County, Maryland (1894). He's the author of many famous hard-boiled detective novels, including Red Harvest (1929), The Dain Curse (1929), The Maltese Falcon (1930), and The Thin Man (1934).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show