Elegy for Jane
by Theodore Roethke
Inherent to teaching is the cycle of loss. Roethke captures the emotional investment and cost of teaching — and living — poignantly. “Elegy for Jane” was particularly moving and healing when I recently lost students of my own.
Paul Dunlap, 40
English Teacher, Henry M. Gunn High School
Elegy for Jane
I remember the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils;
And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel smile;
And how, once startled into talk, the light syllables leaped for her,
And she balanced in the delight of her thought,
A wren, happy, tail into the wind,
Her song trembling the twigs and small branches.
The shade sang with her;
The leaves, their whispers turned to kissing,
And the mould sang in the bleached valleys under the rose.
Oh, when she was sad, she cast herself down into such a pure depth,
Even a father could not find her:
Scraping her cheek against straw,
Stirring the clearest water.
My sparrow, you are not here,
Waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.
The sides of wet stones cannot console me,
Nor the moss, wound with the last light.
If only I could nudge you from this sleep,
My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon.
Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
I, with no rights in this matter,
Neither father nor lover.
(Note from Poet Laureate: Paul will be one of our featured readers at the next Favorite Poems Reading Wednesday, March 7th at 7pm at Books Inc. Palo Alto. See full list of readers, above. Don’t miss it!)