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 a 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 notes 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).

— Theodore Roethke

6 thoughts on “I Knew a Woman

  1. I know what you mean. I once ordered a small book by Kathy Acker from a vendor in South Africa which, being used, was really cheap but the postage was more than four times the cost. Furthermore, it took twelve weeks to arrive (I sent the bottle back).


    1. All solved now, but your experience is typical. EBay is the worst, some US sellers claim to pay the import duties, but do not reveal it until checkout. I found the biography too, with free postage. It’ll be a bit of a wait, but at least I have a new reading project.

      However, Powells are always trustworthy, in my experience. Wherever they are, some eBayers flat out lie. You know the type, they tell you its nearly mint and send you a clapped ex-libary book. At least that’s what happens here.


  2. I just woke up, and saw this post on my tablet. I like poetry, but although the opening lines seemed familiar, I have not read this poet before. The American poets on my shelf are few, Whitman, Poe etc, but I must remedy that and find a collection of Ted Roethke’s works.
    Can you recommend a good biography of him?

    Thanks for enriching my Autumn morning.


    1. I notice that I presented this particular poem earlier in a post that discussed Roethke and my experience with his poetry at university (I also posted My Papa’s Waltz). Roethke’s biography is The Glass House by Alan Seager but that is an old one, may be out of print, and possibly has been superseded by a new biography.

      I did my Senior Independent Study at university on Ted Roethke and continue to consider him not only a favorite, but also an important American poet. Well worth your attention.

      Lookup Roethke’s The Far Field on an internet poetry site. Good stuff.


      1. Thanks for the suggestions, Mike. I saw a YouTube video by Steve Donoghue about Roethke too, but am experiencing some difficulty in sourcing his poems in the UK. I shall bit the bullet and buy from the US, if I can find a seller that doesn’t quote more than the book for postage. I found a copy of The Glass House from a UK seller. Thanks.


      2. I just found Faber’s Collected Poems published by Faber in 1969 from the UK, so that’s that problem solved. I would like an American Library edition, if such a thing exists but the Faber will do to be going on with. I’m reslky excited by this poet, from what I have found on the web. Thanjs again.


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