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Dreamed before 1958 by Theodore Roethke
I met her as a blossom on a stem
Before she ever breathed, and in that dream
The mind remembers from a deeper sleep:
Eye learned from eye, cold lip from sensual lip.
My dream divided on a point of fire;
Light hardened on the water where we were;
A bird sang low; the moonlight sifted in;
The water rippled, and she rippled on.
She came toward me in the flowing air,
A shape of change, encircled by its fire.
I watched her there, between me and the moon;
The bushes and the stones danced on and on;
I touched her shadow when the light delayed;
I turned my face away, and yet she stayed.
A bird sang from the center of a tree;
She loved the wind because the wind loved me.
Love is not love until love's vulnerable.
She slowed to sigh, in that long interval.
A small bird flew in circles where we stood;
The deer came down, out of the dappled wood.
All who remember, doubt. Who calls that strange?
I tossed a stone, and listened to its plunge.
She knew the grammar of least motion, she
Lent me one virtue, and I live thereby.
She held her body steady in the wind;
Our shadows met, and slowly swung around;
She turned the field into a glittering sea;
I played in flame and water like a boy
And I swayed out beyond the white seafoam;
Like a wet log, I sang within a flame.
In that last while, eternity's confine,
I came to love, I came into my own.
This elusive lyric was published in 1958. When was it dreamed? Was it dreamed? Roethke's former student and editor, David Wagoner, who's plowed through a good twelve linear feet of the poet's notebooks and loose papers, found that Roethke, especially in his later years, worked by accretion and concretion. This poem may tell a dream, or four dreams, or a jumble of dreamlets, or a mixture of dream- and waking images and lines, all floating in the notebooks and on paper-slips for years before crystallizing into this form.
So is it a dream? And of whom? Roethke's dead and not telling. Still, this whatever-it-is is quite compelling.
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