Friday, May 25, 2012

Theodore Roethke lives on, but Morrill Hall will not


“The edge is what I have.” ~ Theodore Roethke

I need to document a couple of things.

I work in one of the oldest buildings on campus, Morrill Hall.

Morrill Hall’s Chicago style architecture is simple.

The halls are old-school institutional.

Morrill Hall was built 1899-1901 as a women’s dorm when there was a Home Economics major. It was named for Justin Smith Morrill, the author of the Morrill Act, which is also called the Land Grant Colleges Act. The act intended to ensure that there would be at least one college in each state of the Union that would be accessible to all students, especially “to the sons of toil” (agriculture, science and engineering). Michigan State University was the first Land Grant University in the United States, established in 1855, before the Morrill Act. It was a few years later that Justin Morrill, a Representative (and later Senator) from the state of Vermont, authored the Land Grant Colleges Act that was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, 150 years ago. It was from that point that Land Grant Colleges like MSU began to receive federal funding. (Here is a list of Land Grant Universities, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities.)

Here are a few of us reading Diane Wakoski poems to her in a tribute on the occasion of her retirement a year ago below her Morrill Hall office window.

Me reading Wakoski's
Diane Wakoski listening in her office window;
we gathered in her office afterward
and reminisced about going to office hours
back in the days of our classes with her

My second floor office is spacious with a ten-foot ceiling and oak trim, probably from the oaks that were clear-cut all across Michigan. (After the great Chicago fire Chicago was rebuilt from Michigan trees.)

Morrill Hall looks and feels just the way an English department should.

This cabinet in my office is where all the department's
published dissertations were stored, but not any more.

The teapots are used for Teas with Professors.

Unfortunately, Morrill Hall was built to be a women’s dorm over a hundred years ago for forty pounds of weight per square foot, not as office space for the departments of English, Religious Studies and History, with professors’ offices lined with books floor to ceiling. The floors now bear about 140 pounds per square foot, and the structure of the building just can’t take it. Floors sag in the middle, and ceiling plaster falls on desks. My filing cabinet tipped over last year, thankfully not on top of me. My floor sags, and the filing cabinet was not properly shimmed.

Thankfully I was standing at the cabinet when it began to tip,
and I was able to scoot out of the way.

I hate to think what would have happened
if I'd been sitting at my computer;
though the copper vase fell on my macbook,
the laptop didn't break.

The building will be torn down sometime in the next year. Even most of the people who don't like Morrill Hall for its bats, cockroaches, falling plaster, hellish heat, dingy halls and the like are sorry to see it come down. We’ll be moving across campus to a newer refurbished building near the river. There will be central air and even floors. No dark, ominous hallways with bats fluttering around your head. No character, in my humble opinion. When I visited my new digs across the river last year, I cried all the way back to Morrill.

There are lots of stories about old Morrill Hall that are being recalled by professors and staff who have been around the longest, many of them retiring this year and not making the move with us, including my professor and mentor Diane Wakoski. I graduated from the department the same year I got my job as academic adviser in 2001.

I had supper with two retiring friends last week who have worked in the department since the 1970s, and they reminisced for a couple of hours while I listened and asked questions. One standout story was of a poet-professor who climbed out his second floor (or third, depending on who tells it) classroom window and peered in at the students from the ledge making faces “to give them something to write about.” My professor friend couldn’t remember the poet-professor’s name. Next day when I found out he was Theodore Roethke, the Pulitzer prize winning poet considered one of the great and important American poets of his generation, I was sorry it had taken the demise of our building for me to hear about it.

Roethke (1908-1963) is one of the names I’ve heard since I got into poetry in the early 1990s with Wakoski, but I never read his work. I suppose there are so many wonderful and important poets, that you only focus on the few who catch your attention. I mostly spent time with William Carlos Williams from that generation. I assumed Roethke was intellectual and inaccessible. (Watch this lovely, artistic 25-minute film of him to see how he is not; he reminds me of Jack Benny and Charles Laughton at their most childlike and animated.)

Today is Theodore Roethke’s birthday, born 1908, though he’s just been born for me. I decided to write about him in a post about the death of Morrill Hall, because so often one life ends when another begins. (I think of dear Lister Matheson, the professor who passed away the day after my grandson was born.) You can read good bios at several sites. (Poetry Foundation, University of Illinois’ Modern American Poetry site, the Friends of Roethke home museum site).

You can read in those abbreviated bios about Roethke’s importance to poetry, and about his struggles with manic depression and drinking. How he wrote “the Greenhouse Poems” out of his childhood when his father and uncle ran a greenhouse in Saginaw, Michigan, "the greenhouse — my symbol for the whole of life, a womb, a heaven-on-earth" (from today's The Writer's Almanac). How he taught at Michigan State just a few months before being hospitalized in Ann Arbor after a mental breakdown. How after years of teaching at the University of Washington he died at age 55 with a heart attack in a friend’s pool. You can read the full biographical book about him called The Glass House by Allan Seager.

Besides the fact that he worked in my university building, I am trying to comprehend why Roethke has captivated my attention so profoundly. If I’d read a poem by him after hearing he worked in my department and not been astonished with the sort of beauty that comes through suffering, I probably would not have been drawn to him as powerfully as I have. But I was blown away after one poem, satiated. I couldn’t read another for several days. It was this poem I read first. You can see how he uses nature to connect with the interior life, and vice versa:

In a Dark Time
by Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks--is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is--
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

What strikes me from Roethke’s story and poetry is the way he opened up rooms of consciousness through all experience, including, maybe most importantly, through what was painful. To suffer, and within the suffering take a step forward into creativity, is profoundly brave and loving. He explored the self and was introspective, perhaps to a fault. He used “himself as the material for his art” and was criticized for it artistically; using his breakdowns "to reach a new level of reality" may have intensified his manic swings. But who is to say, except the one who is within the suffering self, what is right, or harmful, or beneficial? Other suffering poets evoke anger, sorrow, pity. The feeling I get from the Roethke poems I have read is joy and beauty, fed by sadness.

While I get a thrill that Roethke worked in the same halls where I work, unhappily his few months at MSU are when at age 27 he experienced his first mental breakdown. Rod Phillips, Michigan poet who wrote five poems about the MSU Roethke story of peering in at his students through a window in a collection called “The Ledge” wrote in the intro:

In November, midway through the fall quarter, he suffered the first of what would be several mental breakdowns. Roethke became obsessed by his reading of the Russian dancer Vaslov Nijinsky’s mystical diary, written while he was in an asylum in San Moritz. Fueled by heavy alcohol consumption, enormous doses of coffee and Coca-Cola, and by Nijinsky’s insistence that the path to truly knowing reality was through a trance-like madness, Roethke spiraled into a psychotic break that left him wandering shoeless, freezing, and incoherent in the woods near campus.

Here are a few pertinent and poignant lines from the poems by Phillips about the Roethke ledge incident and subsequent breakdown:

(“Now watch” you told them
as you backed out the window
“Write about this.”)
I see you waving at them, making faces
through the rippling distortion
of the thick window glass.
Glowing for a moment on that ledge,
that high thin extremest verge,
just six weeks before your breakdown—
the dizzying fall from sanity
that ended your brief time here

     ~ excerpt from “The Ledge”

It was all too big to keep indoors;
if the trees had souls as Nijinsky said
you had to verify this immediately,
before clarity was lost and you fell
back into the world of man.

     ~ excerpt from “The Campus Hotel”

It was the creaking of the trees
in the night wind that brought you back
into yourself, sweating and shivering . . .
A stranger wrapped a blanket
around your heaving shoulders . . .

     ~ excerpt from “The Secret of Nijinsky”

Later, when a doctor began to suggest
that mental states like yours had produced
some of history’s finest literature,
you cut him off in mid-sentence,
braced his arm and asked
“Don’t you know what poems like that cost?”

     ~ excerpt from “There is Another Story”

This summer I plan to visit one of the picnics held at the Friends of Theodore Roethke Home Museum in Saginaw, Michigan. The curators want not only to establish a center spotlighting Roethke’s historical legacy; they also want to extend poetry workshops, community service and education about mental illness. I have spoken with them and might be able to help the Friends of Roethke dig deeper into facts of his time at MSU. (Photo of the Roethke house courtesy The Saginaw News)

One last thing. A couple of our young professors created an event a few weeks ago to write literary graffiti on the walls of Morrill Hall. We got permission from the Dean, and many professors, students and staff came to write favorite quotes, an impermanent gesture in a crumbling building to highlight what lasts in the heart. Sadly, my camera’s memory card was not inserted properly, and I lost all the photos from that event. But here are a few taken afterward.

The graduate lounge;
in the days of the women's dorm, this was one side of a lounge;
the other side is now partitioned as the graduate office
with an unpainted oak fireplace;
that was my office for my first year in 2001

It was a window like this that Roethke peered through
Of course I had to write some Diane Wakoski,
from her famous poem "Blue Monday";
I picked a line with "bats" in it
and drew a little cartoon of her
Professor Singh, who teaches Shakespeare,
wrote an Urdu poem in Hindi;
I took a photo of her writing it,
but as I say, my memory card wasn't in properly,
so it never made it to the camera sensor
This is my office (shorter filing cabinet now);
My friend Inge and I wrote on my office walls
last week

I wanted to memorialize Roethke somewhere in the graffiti
where my students would see it when they come in for an appointment
for a couple more months
I didn't realize until Inge had finished writing her Virginia Woolf quote
that we had both written about madness.

I'll end with one more Roethke poem, “Big Wind.” It is one of his greenhouse poems, about the rose house. I think of the rose house as Morrill Hall, the building many of us would like to save in the face of the big wind of time and progress. Ultimately, I guess, the building we want to save is ourself.

Big Wind
by Theodore Roethke

Where were the greenhouses going,
Lunging into the lashing
Wind driving water
So far down the river
All the faucets stopped?
So we drained the manure-machine
For the steam plant,
Pumping the stale mixture
Into the rusty boilers,
Watching the pressure gauge
Waver over to red,
As the seams hissed
And the live steam
Drove to the far
End of the rose-house,
Where the worst wind was,
Creaking the cypress window-frames,
Cracking so much thin glass
We stayed all night,
Stuffing the holes with burlap;
But she rode it out,
That old rose-house,
She hove into the teeth of it,
The core and pith of that ugly storm,
Ploughing with her stiff prow,
Bucking into the wind-waves
That broke over the whole of her,
Flailing her sides with spray,
Flinging long strings of wet across the roof-top,
Finally veering, wearing themselves out, merely
Whistling thinly under the wind-vents;
She sailed until the calm morning,
Carrying her full cargo of roses.



Jeanie said...

I don't know where to begin. As one who loves the old buildings in the central campus -- indeed, they ARE Michigan State University to me -- the upcoming demolition of Morrill Hall has upset me greatly. Certainly the reasons you spell out make some sense, but oh -- couldn't they refurbish this building do house something less stressful? Something where floors don't need to be even, something the structure could bear? Well, that's a battle that can't be won, but I shudder (especially after seeing the monstrosity down the street) to think what might go onto that spot.

Your tribute is a beautiful one, one that touches the heart. It has certainly touched mine.

As for the Roethke part of the post, that first poem resonates so deeply with the darkness in my heart right now and that lost soul feeling. I read it and weep and trust my darkness will pass, unlike Roethke's.

How masterfully you have brought these two true stories full circle. Bravo.

Ruth said...

Dear Jeanie, thank you for reading this long post.

I hear you about using Morrill for something else, something less weighty, that would allow her to keep standing. As for the monstrosity down the street, I am one of the very few (I only know one other actually) who likes the modern art museum, even in its situation. It's probably more the idea of it than anything.

I'm glad that poem resonates for you in this dark time. Beauty heals, and I pray that your heart will continue healing in its perfect rhythm. xoxo

Unknown said...

Thank you .
I adore you. Thank you.

all of it aside, I am grateful for the sort of Stendhal syndrome words and images and souls evoke in me. Like yours.

and now I want to read more of Roethke . I want more hours in the day. more days, yes, always , more days....

( Is there a plan for salvaging the bits of the building? )

Marcie said...

Love how you've documented this old building before its demise. Especially - how you captured its history and its present day..and the smallest of details that speak to all that it carries in its arms. Lovely!

Ruth said...

Deb, bless you for reading all this, and for that connection you feel with words (oh with mine!).

My intention is to delve into Roethke. Let's see if my intention materializes.

Your question about bits of the building is one on all of our tongues. They made us swear we would not write literary graffiti on the oak trims, so I am assuming they mean to salvage them, and the fireplaces. I also hear they want to preserve some of the brick for a memorial bench or something. :|


Ruth said...

Marcie, thank you for reading this post of love and remembrance. It feels important to do this, to not let it slip away unaccounted for.

hedgewitch said...

Roethke is an old friend, but that first poem I had not read, so thank you so much for that--it was one of his finest and I'm curious why it's in none of my anthologies. Too much to choose from, perhaps. Then, thanks for the little bit about the land grant colleges--OSU is where I attended (its urban branch) for my hort studies, but I didn't know Langston U. was also one. Last, how rich the legacy and history of your building--I can feel that by spending your days there, some of you has entered it, and vice versa, along with all the others who have spent their hours working, thinking, learning, reacting there. The old passes, leaving only memories, its true, but perhaps in a hundred years the new building you are moving to will seem ancient and full of the spirits of those who have taught and studied there, too. I love the quote from your mentor that you chose, about being painted with bat wings--the mystery of art and love in a nutshell. Thanks so much for this rich and fascinating post, Ruth.

George said...

This is such a rich posting, Ruth, and I enjoyed it immensely. Roethke's poem, "In a Dark Time," is a favorite of mine. There is so much in it that I relate to: "What's madness but nobility of the soul at odds with circumstance?" "Death of the self in a long, tearless night, all natural shapes blazing in unnatural light . . ." "My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly, keeps buzzing . . . "

With all of the madness that attends the search of a noble soul, perhaps we should always remember some other other Roethke words that are quoted in the sidebar to my own blog: "And everything comes to One, as we dance on, dance on, dance on."

Well done, my friend. This provides food for many days of thought. Dance on!

Nathalie said...

Ruth thank you so much for all of this - your recollection of your own experience of this old experience (the story about the fall of the cabinet!!!), the poems by Roethke and excepts from Rod Phillips, your own photos, all make for a very moving post. I usually tend to think that my command of English isn't good enough to enable me to truly appreciate English poetry but Roethke's lines went straight to my heart. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Hedge, I smile, because I believe that you are one who didn't read just "a few" of the poets of Roethke's generation. I love knowing he is an old friend of yours, but also that I could introduce you to this poem! That is astonishing.

I have often thought of you in connection with the hort students I see around our beautiful campus who are the "slave laborers" keeping things trim and lovely in the gardens and grounds.

I appreciate all you said, and something in me leapt at what you wrote about the building being in me, and I in it. I think it's true. What a mystery. And I believe it is also true that we will bring Wells Hall something of ourselves, and it will give us something in return. How can it not, even though we resist it somehow?

Thank you for your attention to the post, right down to Diane's painted bat wings.

Shaista said...

What an essay!! You must surely feel this was fated? You finding Roethke, you leaving that final quote on your office wall - it doesn't matter about all those lost photographs - just one would suffice to remember that you and he shared space of the written word, and imagination.
What a gift he leaves you. And what gifts you share with the rest of us - am trying not be insanely envious of every student who has ever had an appointment with Ruth Mowry in her office.
Thank God the cabinet chose when and how to fall - it too recognised your preciousness.

The summer project will be wonderful - and Roethke lives on in each of us, brought down from that ledge and into our hearts.

One eats poetry such as his, such as yours...

Ruth said...

George, thank you for reading this long post and for reminding me of your Roethke quote. The truth is that I did think of you in Roethke's "In a Dark Time" and many of your own posts at Transit Notes that are resonant of it.

It seems we have been trying to get on the dance floor together for some time now, either at the Willow Ball, or in my old high school gymnasium, so it's fitting that you bring Roethke's words from your own wall to mine, like literary graffiti in the dance hall!

Ruth said...

Nathalie, bonjour! How lovely to know you read this post and felt moved by it. I am thrilled that you found Roethke's poems accessible, too, and that they entered your heart. What a gift words are, and I am quite happy to be the carrier pigeon of his to you.

Ruth said...

Shaista, my friend, you are much too kind to me. Would that you could travel with me to Saginaw and read poems to the group. Imagine Shaista, at a Roethke reading! Ahh, eating poetry . . . Ink runs from the corners of my mouth. . . . How does Mark Strand, or Roethke, or Tayabali, find new ways to combine letters and words into magic food that feeds our souls?

Jean Spitzer said...

Fascinating--all of it.

The Solitary Walker said...

This is such a rich and resonant post, Ruth, I couldn't even begin to write even a few sensible comments in the short time I have available right now! Suffice to say, thank you for it, and for the time and effort you put into it. It was infinitely rewarding to read, believe me. Hope to be more interactive when I've come down to earth a little more securely . . .

Ruth said...

Jean, thanks so much for reading and connecting!

Ruth said...

Robert, your comment is sufficiently enthusiastic to make me quite glad. If after these things ruminate in you, and you've come down to earth (I picture a hot air balloon) and you want to add anything, I will love it. Thanks so much for reading in your fleeting moments!

Maureen said...

Great post, Ruth.

Roethke was one of the first poets I read in depth (way back in the early '70s) and remains one of his generation that I continue to pick up. One can rest in his words, and then hear him again pushing in on the places inside.

Yin said...

What a lovely, lingering post! All too full of sadness - but it chimes very much with me at the moment and I'm so pleased to discover Roethke too - thank you! :)

The Broad said...

This post has been so richly rewarding for me. Old buildings, the photographs and such wonderful poetry and the way you have combined it all into such a moving and exciting rapturous adventure of depths and the human heart and soul. That quote of Roethke's "Don't you know what poems like that cost" is utterly haunting. Thank you so much for all the time and effort you put into this...

Ruth said...

Thanks, Maureen. I envy you these long decades of companionship with Roethke you've shared, and I was glad to see you share his bio from at FB. It says there that he admired Emerson, among others, and I see that May 25 is also Emerson's birthday. Somehow I hope they were able to celebrate together.

Ruth said...

Welcome, Yin, and thank you for reading. I am most glad what I've shared here connected with you, getting your tuning fork humming, to borrow a friend's image.

Ruth said...

To The Broad, thank you for your enthusiastic response to this lengthy post. I'm especially gratified that you read all the Phillips lines, right down to that last chastening question.

Shari said...

Thanks to your post, I feel as if I have a connection with an old building on a campus I never visited and with the people who lived and worked inside. The references to the professor/poet were fascinating especially since my son is bipolar, too. I love the pictures of the quotations on the walls and the mindset that asks permission to deface an old building even as it waits demolition. The rose greenhouse poem is a perfect reference to the old building.

California Girl said...

I think one of the reasons my SoCal soul loves the East Coast is the preservation of antiquity. I did not grow up with that in LA. The old bldgs & bridges & parks knock my socks off each time I see them. I'm always renewed.

Ruth said...

Shari, I appreciate your reading this post through, and especially for the connection you have with the poet's struggles with depression because of your son. The more we openly speak of mental disorders the more we will come to understand those of our loved ones, and ourselves, who suffer through them. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

Ruth said...

CG, I love our east coast roots, too, even if they aren't very old by European or Asian standards of civilization. Old things make me feel connected with something bigger, something and someone more than me.

Mystic Meandering said...

I feel a little like a duck out of water here, as I'm not an intellectual "literary" type, but enjoy good writing and good poetry. I loved the tour and history of the old campus. The photo of the leaves on the side of the building looking like a masked man is delightful. I was deeply moved by Roethke's poem - "In A Dark Time." He sounds "enlightened" not "mad"! As if "enlightened" *through* his shadow aspects, through his suffering; something not addressed in most contemporary "non-dual spiritual circles" (that I'm aware of).

"Which I is I?.....a fallen man I climb out of my fear. The mind enters itself, and God the mind. And one is One, free..." How profound, for one teetering on the edge of "madness." We need to redefine "madness"! :)

musicwithinyou said...

This place,those walls, and floors that so many people walked. The writing on the walls brought me to tears.

Theodore Roethke , I got to read about him in class. I love his work and I picked one of his poems for a class assignment.

Arti said...

You've shared so much on this post, I'm overwhelmed... by the poetics of Roethke, by your reminiscence of an old building and the memories that will come down with it. I'm moved to see all those quotes. And I love Roethke's poems here. As always, I don't know much but learn from what you've shared, so this is my intro to Roethke and I'd say, I must read more of him. I like the intellectual elements in his poems. I'd noted that line about madness too, and impressed about many other lines. But for some reasons this one resonates more: "I live between the heron and the wren." Thanks for a wonderful post, Ruth.

Ruth said...

Mystic Meandering, I read the first line of a poem and try it on; if the first line does not draw me in, I do not read it. Sometimes I come back to it and try again, because the mood can be wrong one time and right another. So I am glad you found these many things in the post and poems to meander in. I love you seeing a masked man in the leaves on the building. And I love what you said about redefining madness. In fact I have a difficult time talking about "madness" because so many of the things we call "disorders" are simply nobility of soul at odds with circumstance and I think that socially we just don't know what to do with them. Thank you so much for reading and for your very connected responses.

Ruth said...

musicwithinyou, I am touched that you were brought to tears by the writing on the walls. My friend Inge feels we should always write on walls in our working and living spaces. How inspired would we be if our conference rooms always had our most inspiring quotes on the walls surrounding us?

Ruth said...

Arti, thank you for reading this lengthy post through, that means a lot to me. Yes there is a lot here. When I learned about Roethke and his time at Michigan State, it seemed the right time to also share the literary graffiti; I had been waiting for just the right time. I, too, love that line that resonates for you. There is a belongingness, and also a loneliness, implicit.

Friko said...

I don't know how late I am answering this post; I came because Roethke appeared in your heading.

I am sorry that your hall is being pulled down; perhaps making a 'happening' out of it will ease the loss a little. Having the chance to say goodbye in such a fashion will make the old girl come to life for you whenever you remember her.

Roethke is my favourite poet in the English language. I read Meditation at Oyster River and The Waking (I wake to sleep and take my waking slow) at least once a week and they never fail to bring a lump to my throat. I read them out loud and at every opportunity, whenever I attend poetry group meetings, - perhaps because there is something Germanic about him, the depth of feeling, the melancholy, the suffering and yet the joy of living, observing, being part of the universe of spirit. If ever poetry was of the spirit, it is his.

I wish I could be part of the world that speaks of him, reads him and celebrates his life. Think of me, please, when you visit the Society.

Vagabonde said...

I did not know the poet Roethke but will now find a book with his poems. I liked the poems you placed on your post - the language is fresh, the style simple and the imagery powerful. I like the brief style of the sentences and the sharp words. I am pleased your included his poems.

Now about your hall – I am completely shocked that such an historic building in a university would be razed. It may not be so old but for the university it is and on top of that it is loved. My husband’s nephew, who is, I am not sure of the term, a structural engineer, says that many old buildings here can be strengthened, renovated and salvaged but the US philosophy is to save money regardless of the history. What a shame. I wonder what people would do in France if they decided to raze buildings at the universities of La Sorbonne in Paris or Oxford in England? Whenever one visits the Vieux Marais in Paris it can be observed that the old buildings are being reworked, not replaced. I am stunned and saddened too at the constant importance given to money versus the country’s heritage in the US. This is one aspect of this culture that really distresses me. But I also understand that it is difficult to change a country’s philosophy that has been prevalent for almost all its existence with the agreement of the majority. Disappointing though.

Stratoz said...

Awed by the time you spent making this post. It is a piece of art. Love the photos of the hallways

Ginnie said...

I don't know where to start either, Ruth!

I LOVE how you have paid tribute so fully to this poet and your Hall, weaving them both together as one.

I thought of David, the Psalmist, with all his highs and lows. I even thought of the psychiatric hospital in Ann Arbor where I worked my first year of marriage. I wonder if that's where Roethke stayed? We had so many learned patients there...who simply needed to get off the merry-go-round!

I absolutely love this post and read every word of it. I can feel your attachment to this man and understand why....

erin said...

ruth, i wonder what it is that you have truly articulated here. i began crying very early on and have not stopped. you have drawn the perimeter around transience and i weep, not for the loss, but for the temporary gains whose roots grow not only toward the past, but toward the future as well. diane wakowski at her window. my god, what must she have felt on her writing career, on her life, on that moment, each one before, each one to come and all of you? i can't begin to imagine. and the old building itself. holy holy. i wonder if a building is much the same as an animal, without the ability to know time or i, but existing nonetheless with a sure role. i am sorry for the loss of all of it. what incredible shots of the hallway and light. i grieve that it will go but our grief is always a celebration for what is.

this weekend i went camping by myself in killarney. what a timeless place, animals spilling from her lap. i went into the local store very early sunday morning to buy a coffee. there was a blank girl behind an oak counter. oh, it was a gorgeous counter, such craftsmanship and how many years of being touched? i bought my coffee and gasped about it. she took two dollars indifferently. i thought, oh, this counter deserves to be loved. but these things are things, are they not, the shadows of those who live around them, not the things of value themselves really, but those things we attribute value to, who in some way flash our essence, our existence back toward the world: mirrors.

a very wonderful post, ruth. roethke's madness and passion for life underscored by impermanence, what could be more perfect?


Nelson said...


Your Morrill Hall images are highly evocative for me, with Philosophy classes there as an undergraduate in the early 60's and religious studies as a graduate student in the 70's.

I'm sorry to see this structure go - the East Circle without it will seem very strange.

Thank you for your little history and for some good memories.

PeterParis said...

I have nothing to add to what you have written or what has already been said in the comments, but I just wanted to say that I really appreciated this post! There is so much in it … and probably also a lot you!

Peter said...

Surely I can't be the only one who sees grandpa (Carl) Hart in those pictures of Roethke!

Margaret said...

Oh Ruth, I'm only half way through this post (not even) and I'm captivated. THAT teaches me to stay away so long :) I will be back, to read and click on all the links. I'm away for a weekend with my artist daughter (she will be painting plein air at a lavender harvest festival and I will be watching (and taking photos). Up with the dawn, and must get to bed....

I love your photography here and all the wonderful insight and history. I can just imagine you walking back from the wonderful new building, crying.

GailO said...

So many things I want to comment on here Ruth but I will leave it just by letting you know I loved every single bit of it. Thank you for making me so much closer to Roethke. I adore that your school has teapots for teas with professors and the poetry graffiti:)