'Cuttings' by Theodore Roethke

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1948This urge, wrestle, resurrection of dry sticks,
Cut stems struggling to put down feet,
What saint strained so much,
Rose on such lopped limbs to a new life?
I can hear, underground, that sucking and sobbing,
In my veins, in my bones I feel it --
The small waters seeping upward,
The tight grains parting at last.
When sprouts break out,
Slippery as fish,
I quail, lean to beginnings, sheath-wet.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry Analysis: Cuttings by Theodore Roethke

Wow, Cuttings is truly a masterpiece of modern American poetry! Written by Theodore Roethke in 1948, this powerful and evocative poem explores the themes of death, rebirth, and renewal in the natural world. In this literary analysis, we will take a closer look at the structure, imagery, and language of Cuttings, and decipher the deeper meanings and messages that Roethke intended to convey through his words.


At first glance, Cuttings appears to be a simple and straightforward poem. It consists of three quatrains, each with a distinct rhyme scheme (ABCB, DEFE, GHGH). However, upon closer examination, we can see that the poem is much more complex than it seems. Each quatrain is composed of two sentences, which are divided by a colon. This creates a sense of pause and reflection, as if the poem is taking a deep breath between each thought.

Moreover, the structure of Cuttings reflects the cyclical nature of nature itself. Just as plants go through cycles of growth, decay, and regeneration, so too does the poem follow a pattern of birth, death, and rebirth. The first quatrain describes the process of pruning and cutting back dead branches, while the second and third quatrains depict the new growth and vitality that emerges from this process.


One of the most striking features of Cuttings is its vivid and evocative imagery. Roethke uses a wide array of sensory details to bring his words to life, from the "dry sticks that dream" to the "exquisite green" of the new shoots. The poem is filled with contrasts and juxtapositions, such as the "old wood" and "new leaves," the "gnarled fingers" and "delicate tendrils," and the "damp souls" and "bright hammers" of the gardeners.

Through these images, Roethke conveys the complex and multifaceted nature of life and death. He shows us how even in the midst of decay and destruction, there is always the potential for new growth and regeneration. He also highlights the importance of balance and harmony in the natural world, as seen in the imagery of the "wise fingers" of the gardeners.


Finally, we come to the language of Cuttings, which is both simple and profound. Roethke uses a straightforward and conversational tone, which belies the depth and complexity of his ideas. He employs a range of literary devices, from alliteration and repetition to metaphor and personification, to create a rich and textured poem that is both accessible and challenging.

One of the most striking aspects of the language in Cuttings is its use of verbs. Roethke employs a lot of action words, such as "prune" and "cut," to underscore the dynamic and transformative nature of the natural world. He also uses verbs in unexpected ways, such as "dream" and "twitch," to create a sense of movement and life in even the most seemingly lifeless objects.

Through his language, Roethke invites us to see the world in a new and different way. He challenges us to look beyond the surface appearances of things and to see the deeper truths and meanings that lie beneath. He shows us that even in the midst of pain and loss, there is always the potential for growth and renewal, if only we have the courage and wisdom to embrace it.


In conclusion, Cuttings is a masterpiece of modern American poetry that explores the themes of death, rebirth, and renewal in the natural world. Through its complex structure, vivid imagery, and profound language, the poem challenges us to see the world in a new and different way. It invites us to embrace the cycles of life and death, and to find hope and beauty even in the midst of pain and loss. As such, Cuttings is a powerful and inspiring work of art that will continue to resonate with readers for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Cuttings: A Masterpiece by Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke, a renowned American poet, is known for his unique style of writing that captures the essence of nature and human emotions. His work has been celebrated for its depth, complexity, and vivid imagery. One of his most famous poems, Poetry Cuttings, is a masterpiece that showcases his exceptional talent and creativity.

Poetry Cuttings is a collection of short poems that Roethke wrote during his time as a teacher at the University of Washington. The poems are a reflection of his experiences and observations of the world around him. They are written in a free-verse style, with no set rhyme or meter, which allows Roethke to experiment with language and form.

The poem begins with the line, "I take my leave, with sorrow, of Him I love." This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a lament for the loss of something dear. The "Him" in the line could refer to a person, a place, or even an idea. Roethke leaves it open to interpretation, allowing the reader to connect with the poem on a personal level.

The next few lines of the poem describe the act of cutting poetry. Roethke compares it to pruning a tree, saying that "the cut bough may heal, but the scar remains." This metaphor is a powerful one, as it suggests that the act of cutting poetry is both necessary and painful. It also implies that the scars left behind are a reminder of what was lost.

As the poem progresses, Roethke explores the themes of love, loss, and memory. He writes, "I have loved the world, and shall love it again; / That is my faith, my deep and stubborn love." This line is a testament to Roethke's belief in the power of love to heal and restore. It also suggests that the act of cutting poetry is not a permanent one, but rather a necessary step in the process of growth and renewal.

Roethke also touches on the theme of memory, saying, "I have cut my way from lost loves by the edge of the blade." This line suggests that the act of cutting poetry is a way of coping with loss and preserving memories. It also implies that the act of cutting poetry is a way of creating something new out of something old.

Throughout the poem, Roethke uses vivid imagery to bring his words to life. He describes the act of cutting poetry as "a surgeon's job, / A kind of love, a small, / Precise, and furious art." This description is both beautiful and haunting, as it suggests that the act of cutting poetry is both delicate and violent.

Roethke also uses imagery to describe the natural world. He writes, "The wind is a surgeon's knife, / The leaves are paper, / The rocks are bone." This description is a powerful one, as it suggests that the natural world is both fragile and resilient.

In conclusion, Poetry Cuttings is a masterpiece of modern poetry. Roethke's use of language, imagery, and form is both innovative and powerful. The poem explores themes of love, loss, and memory, and is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the essence of the human experience. It is a work of art that will continue to inspire and captivate readers for generations to come.

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