Epidermal Macabre

Roethke, Theodore

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Terry, James
  • Date of entry: Jun-28-1999


In rhyming couplets, the author describes his loathing for his body--his "fleshy clothes" and his "epidermal dress"--and describes wanting to dispense with "the rags of my anatomy" to become pure sense or spirit. The difficulty, of course, is imagining oneself without a body, so that Roethke is forced to close with his ideal of being "a most / incarnadine and carnal ghost."


Much of Roethke's poetry stemmed from what W. H. Auden described in a review as "the experience of feeling physically soiled and humiliated by life." For Roethke this began with his own physical ungainliness. Many of his readers identified with his poems describing the pursuit of spirituality, continually hampered by a sense of the obscene, the earthly, and the mundane. The Roethke contingents among us provide a counterbalance to the Whitmanesque celebrants of the body and should remind caregivers to be respectful of modesty and shame.

Primary Source

Open House



Place Published

New York