Theodore Roethke and Sylvia Plath Essay

August 17, 2021 by Essay Writer

Theodore Roethke and Sylvia Plath are two poets who have done poetry justice. They are known for their great works both in poetry and in writing. Theodore took up poetry as a vocation relatively late in life while Sylvia started writing poems at a tender age of eight years.

Both have had great success in their works that are still popular even after their deaths. Being a younger poet than Theodore is, Sylvia learnt a great deal from Theodore and she owes much of her work to this role model. The two poets were highly inspired by their surroundings and nature. Their works therefore, holds more similarities as compared to their differences.

Theodore Roethke was born in America in 1908 of a German father. He grew up in a greenhouse run by his father and uncle. His childhood experience in a greenhouse has a big influence in his work that mostly hinges on various forms of nature such as the universe, man, God and eternity. Loss of his father and uncle in the same year at the age of fifteen also formed a foundation to his future career as a poet. He graduated in 1929 in the University of Michigan and later took a masters degree in literature.

Academia became his career and he taught in several colleges and universities including the University of Washington in Seattle. His first work, Open House, appeared in 1941 and was a great success together with the subsequent works. Most of his work revisits his childhood experiences in the greenhouse through which he brings out his internal reality.

Roethke suffered bouts of depression, which explains his interest in psychoanalysis. He felt that psychoanalysts helped him “to reach a new form of reality” (Malkoff, 1971, p. 76). His poem, My Papa’s Waltz, shows his ambivalent attitude towards his father. This work was also an influence of his childhood. Theodore died in 1963 of a heart attack.

On the other hand, Sylvia Plath was born in Massachusetts in 1932 of a Germany immigrant father. She started writing poems at a tender age of eight years. Her works were highly recognised; she won an award, which secured her a place in the editor guest position in Mademoiselle Magazine in her third year in college (Kirk, 2004, p. 2).

Her experience as the guest editor inspired her first novel, The Bell Jar. She was a great admirer of Theodore Roethke’s work and this is reflected in her poem, Daddy, that is quite similar to Theodore’s My Papa’s Waltz. Her work draws from personal experiences and nature. The biggest influences in her poems include moon, hospitals and foetuses. Her experience with her father inspired her poem, Daddy.

When her husband Ted left, Sylvia wrote many poems on love, despair, heartbreak, and revenge all influenced by her husband’s departure. Sylvia suffered from depression and she had attempted suicide on several occasions. She successfully committed suicide in 1963. Her posthumously published work, Ariel, has gained great popularity and respect and through such poems, her influence still runs deep in literature circles in contemporary times.

Plath and Roethke share many similarities both in their works and in lives. Their poems were highly influenced by their childhood and nature. This is well illustrated in Theodore’s My Papa’s Waltz and Sylvia’s Daddy.

The two poems tell of the poets’ fear and ambivalence towards their fathers. Theodore was inspired by nature out of the greenhouse experience he had as a child. Hospitals and foetuses inspired Sylvia due to her miscarriage she experienced. Both poets suffered from depression that influenced the themes of poems in Praise to the End by Theodore and Ariel by Sylvia.

Incidentally, the two poets died in 1963 and their posthumous work is highly recognised. On the contrast, though the two poets were influenced by nature and personal experiences, Sylvia’s world was haunted by death and misfortunes while Theodore appreciated the beauty in his world. Sylvia died of suicide while Theodore died of heart attack. In conclusion, the two poets had great similarities both in their work and in life.


Malkoff, K. (1971). Theodore Roethke: An Introduction to the poetry. Columbia: Columbia University press.

Kirk, C. (2004). Sylvia Plath: A Biography. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group.

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