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"Roethke was born in Saginaw, Michigan. His father, Otto Roethke, was a German immigrant, who owned a large local greenhouse along with his brother (Theodore's uncle). Much of his childhood was spent in this greenhouse, as reflected by the use of natural images in his poetry. The poet's adolescent years were jarred, however, by his uncle's suicide and by the death of his father from cancer, both in early 1923, when Theodore (Ted) was only 15. He also suffered from many bouts of illnesses. These deaths powerfully shaped Roethke's psyche and creative life.
He attended the University of Michigan and then here he briefly attended law school before entering Harvard University, where he studied under the poet Robert Hillyer. Abandoning graduate study for economic reasons, he taught English at several universities, among them Lafayette College, Pennsylvania State University and Bennington College.
In 1940, he was expelled from his position at Lafayette and returned to Michigan. Just prior to his return, he had an affair with established poet and critic Louise Bogan, who later became one of his strongest early supporters. While teaching at Michigan State University in East Lansing, he began to suffer from manic depression, which fueled his poetic impetus. His last teaching position was at the University of Washington, leading to an association with the poets of the American Northwest.
In 1953, Roethke married Beatrice O'Connell, a former student. Roethke did not inform O'Connell of his repeated episodes of depression, yet she remained dedicated to Roethke and his work. She ensured the posthumous publication of his final volume of poetry, The Far Field. Its best known, and certainly most eloquently luminous poem, is Roethke's 'Meditation at Oyster River'. Widely reprinted, 'Meditation' conveys a shock of lyrical recognition, an elevated naturalism, and a simplicity perhaps more engaging than any other of his work. Roethke, and this poem in particular, was deeply admired by the great conductor Carlos Kleiber.
In 1961, Roethke's The Return was featured on George Abbe's Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry album on Folkways Records. The following year, Roethke performed on and released his own album on the label entitled, Words for the Wind: Poems of Theodore Roethke.
Theodore Roethke suffered a heart attack in his friend S.Rasnics' swimming pool in 1963 and died on Bainbridge Island, Washington, aged 55. The pool was later filled in and is now a zen rock garden, which can be viewed by the public at the Bloedel Reserve, a 150-acre (60 hectare) former private estate. There is no sign to indicate that the rock garden was the site of Roethke's death."