Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, December 9, 2007

Eminent poets sometimes write poems to please children. Theodore Roethke (1908-1963) succeeded, with poems that are short, funny, well-rhymed and respectful of the reader's intelligence:

The Sloth

In moving-slow he has no Peer.

You ask him something in his ear;

He thinks about it for a Year;

And, then, before he says a Word

There, upside down (unlike a Bird)

He will assume that you have Heard --

A most Ex-as-per-at-ing Lug.

But should you call his manner Smug,

He'll sigh and give his Branch a Hug;

Then off again to Sleep he goes,

Still swaying gently by his Toes,

And you just know he knows he knows.

As shown by anonymous childhood chants about greasy grimy gopher guts, we can take pleasure in the messy or messed up, and Roethke succeeds at that, too:


O what's the weather in a Beard?

It's windy there, and rather weird,

And when you think the sky has cleared

-- Why, there is Dirty Dinky.

Suppose you walk out in a Storm,

With nothing on to keep you warm,

And then step barefoot on a Worm

-- Of course, it's Dirty Dinky.

As I was crossing a hot hot Plain,

I saw a sight that caused me pain,

You asked me before, I'll tell you again:

-- It looked like Dirty Dinky.

Last night you lay a-sleeping?

No! The room was thirty-five below;

The sheets and blankets turned to snow.

-- He'd got in: Dirty Dinky.

You'd better watch the things you do,

You'd better watch the things you do.

You're part of him; he's part of you

-- You may be Dirty Dinky.

Orderly rhyme and messed-up experiences here -- as in much poetry of all kinds -- lead to a final, powerful, psychological insight.

(Theodore Roethke's poems "The Sloth" and "Dirty Dinky"

an be found in his "Selected Poems." Literary Classics

of the United States. Copyright 2005 by Literary Classics

of the United States.)

Robert Pinsky's new book of poetry is "Gulf Music."

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