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I Knew a Woman

Theodore Roethke

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones, 
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them; 
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one: 
The shapes a bright container can contain! 
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak, 
Or English poets who grew up on Greek 
(I'd have them sing in a chorus, cheek to cheek). 

How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin, 
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand; 
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin; 
I nibbled meekly from her proferred hand; 
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake, 
Coming behind her for her pretty sake 
(But what prodigious mowing we did make). 

Love likes a gander, and adores a goose: 
Her full lips pursed, the errant notes to sieze; 
She played it quick, she played it light and loose; 
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees; 
Her several parts could keep a pure repose, 
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose 
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved). 

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay: 
I'm martyr to a motion not my own; 
What's freedom for? To know eternity. 
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone. 
But who would count eternity in days? 
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways: 
(I measure time by how a body sways).


(1958)


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