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Poetry Analysis Notes


The Meadow Mouse
by Theodore Roethke
interpreted by Conni Buning

In a shoe box stuffed in an old nylon stocking
Sleeps the baby mouse I foundin the meadow,
Where he trembled and shook beneath a stick
Till I caught him up by the tail and brought him in,
Cradled in my hand,
A little quaker, the whole body of him trembling,
His absurd whiskers sticking out like a cartoon-mouse,
His feet like small leaves,
Little lizard-feet,
Whitish and spread wide when he tried to struggle away,
Wriggling like a miniscule puppy.

Now he's eaten his three kinds of cheese and drunk from
his bottle-cap watering trough--
So much he just lies in one corner,
His tail curled under him, his belly big
As his head; his bat-like ears
Twitching, tilting toward the least sound.

Do I imagine he no longer trembles
When I Come close to him?
He seems no longer to tremble.

But this morning the shoe-box house on the back porch is
Where has he gone, my meadow mouse,
My thumb of a child that nuzzled in my palm?--
To run under the hawk's wing,
Under the eye of the great owl watching from the elm-tree,
To live by courtesy of the shrike, the snake, the tom-cat
I think of the nestling fallen into the deep grass,
The turtle gasping in the dusty rubble of the highway,
The paralytic stunned in the tub, and the water rising--
All things innocent, hapless, forsaken.

Poet: Theodore Roethke was born in Michigan in 1908. His poems are mostly about nature, and natural thing and creatures. He has received many awards for his work, including the Pulitzer prize in 1954. He has only published a few things, but what he did publish was widely read. Some of Roethke's poems are "My Papa's Waltz", "The Far Field", and "Night Journey". He died in 1963

Vocabulary: Shrike - a shrill voiced bird that feeds on small mammals

Type of poem:
Free verse

Speaker: The speaker is someone who has caught a small mouse

The audience is no specific thing or person

Tone: The tone of the poem is hopeful at first, hopeful that the mouse will live, and is no longer afraid of its captor. The second part is more resigned to nature's cruelty: the mouse has escaped, and must fend for itself, as does everything "innocent, hapless, forsaken".

Someone has captured a baby meadow mouse, and is keeping it in a shoe box. It trembles and shakes, until, finally, it falls asleep. The speaker asks whether it is his imagination, or if the mouse is not trembling as much. The next morning, however, the meadow mouse is gone, and the speaker's feeling that the mouse trusted him, is broken. He reflects now that the mouse must avoid predators, and fend for itself, and it will probably die alone and uncared-for, as do many creatures that no one notices.

Structure of poem: Free verse

Examples of poetic techniques used in the poem:

His absurd whiskers sticking out like a cartoon mouse Simile
his feet like small leaves
Wriggling like a miniscule puppy Simile
To run under the hawk's wings synecdoche
Under the eye of the great owl
To live by the courtesy of the shrike, the snake, and the tom-cat personification
"trembled", "lizard-feet", "whitish", "wriggling", etc. imagery

Connection between the poem and the poet's life and/or times: Theodore Roethke wrote many poems about nature, at the same time using the poems to represent his feelings.

Most memorable quote from the poem:
“All things innocent, hapless, forsaken." (line 29)

© Smelli Notes 2001