Theodore Roethke

THEODORE ROETHKE

Distinguished poet Theodore Roethke (1908-1963) was born in Saginaw and grew up in the house now preserved as The Theodore Roethke Home Museum. The house at 1805 Gratiot Avenue was built around 1911 for Theodore’s parents, Otto and Helen Roethke. Otto's brother Carl lived in the adjacent fieldstone house, which will become the Carl Roethke Development Center when funds allow. Together, the brothers managed the William Roethke Floral Company, founded in the 1880s by their Prussian immigrant father. The company's extensive greenhouses once stood on the land behind these two houses.

Theodore worked in the greenhouses with his father and his childhood experiences with the family’s Saginaw floral company inspired many of his poems. As he wrote, the greenhouse "is my symbol for the whole of life, a womb, a heaven-on-earth."

Roethke attended John Moore Elementary School and graduated from Arthur Hill High School in Saginaw. He entered the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, graduated  magna cum laude  in1929, and later completed an M.A. in Literature. Roethke taught at Michigan State College (present-day Michigan State University) and at colleges in Pennsylvania and Vermont before joining the faculty of the University of Washington at Seattle in 1947.

Roethke’s first collection of poems, Open House, was published in 1941 to wide acclaim.  Roethke was a master stylist of both free verse and fixed forms. Many of his poems are intensely lyrical and draw from the natural world in all its mystery and fierce beauty. In 1954, Roethke received the Pulitzer Prize for The Waking. He also received two National Book Awards, and the prestigious Bollingen Prize from Yale in 1959. Roethke was friends with major 20th century poets and his teaching influenced a generation of Northwest poets.

Roethke died in Washington state in 1963. His remains are interred in Saginaw's Oakwood Cemetery.