Fate? Sovereign predestination? Coincidence? Chance? Either way, few things excite me and stimulate my mind more than the surprise convergence of different, seemingly unrelated media. Sometimes, that’s listening to albums built upon similar themes, having remarkably similar conversations with people, or watching oddly similar films.
If you’ve kept up with my past few days of blogging, you know I’ve been reading poetry from Theodore Roethke. That’s not all I’ve been reading, but I wanted to share one poem of his I came across today, titled “Love Live the Weeds” from the 1941 collection Open House:
Long live the weeds that overwhelm
My narrow vegetable realm!
The bitter rock, the barren soil
That force the son of man to toil;
All things unholy, marred by curse,
The ugly of the universe.
The rough, the wicked, and the wild
That keep the spirit undefiled.
With these I match my little wit
And earn the right to stand or sit,
Hope, love, create, or drink and die:
These shape the creature that is I.
Writing about plants and gardens was a regularly visited theme for Roethke, whose father carefully tended a garden before dying prematurely in Roethke’s childhood. This traumatic life event created a strong correlation between nature and fatherhood throughout Roethke’s poetry, especially since the themes of growth and life and death are already so ripe within the properties of plants and tending to them.
Roethke would go on to write almost exclusively botany-poetry in his second book, The Lost Son, (one of my favorites is “Weed Puller”), but the poem “Long Live the Weeds” captured my interest with its vivid and overt usage of imagery from the Judeo-Christian creation story. Whether you consider it myth, fact, or some mix of the two — for the record, I fall in the second category but will always give some credence to the third — the literary and historical importance of the Book of Genesis, especially its first three chapters, cannot be denied.
Needless to say at this point, as “fate” would have it, Genesis is what I’ve been reading concurrently with Roethke’s collection. For a moment, I’ll parse out the connections between the two. According to Genesis, the world was once perfect, where presumably humans and plants would never die, work was not exhausting, and pain did not exist. Then the very first humans disobeyed their Creator, essentially displaying a lack of love through their disobedience, by which Death entered the world. The entrance of Death caused biology to change: humans now aged to the point of dying, perfectly good activities like work and childbearing now caused pain, animals now killed each other, and plants now had thorns, thistles, and weeds.
Roethke’s poem picks up amidst the effects of this “curse,” what he calls “the ugly of the universe.” These “unholy” aspects of the wild represent the differences between humans and God, the term “unholy” traditionally defined as “separation from God.” Instead of mourning this separation, Roethke takes pride in it, embracing the hardships he is being forced to suffer. These “rough” and “wicked” things “shape” who he is, his use of the term “creature” perhaps being the only word in the poem that points back to the distanced existence of a Creator. There’s a certain naïveté present within this battle cry desire — long live the weeds! — yet there’s something undeniably true and profound about this; regardless whether you believe the world will someday be made new, whether you believe this world is consumed by sin, whether you believe sin and evil exist at all, we are all stuck here in this world as it is. And the world as it is, this is where we must find hope, give love, and create beauty out of the wild. If we don’t do that, our life will be worth nothing but eating until we die.
In fear of putting words in Roethke’s mouth, I’ll hold back from interpreting the poem any further than that. But what do you think? I plan on continuing with different analyses of Genesis in blog posts to come, but I’ll still be writing about plenty else as well. I’d love to hear what you think! If you have any thoughts, disputes, or questions, the comment section is open below.