Karl Malkoff: On "I Knew a Woman"

The first of the purely sensual poems, "I Knew a Woman,' seems, at first glance, completely innocent; but closer examination reveals that the poem's words, like its lady, move "more ways than one." Double meanings dominate the poem: the lady teaches "Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand"; the protagonist comes "behind her for her pretty sake"; and love, which likes a gander, "adores a goose." Even lines easily passed over have hidden sexual connotations: ". . .what prodigious mowing we did make." "To mow," in Scots dialect, means to have sexual intercourse. And should there be any doubt as to Roethke's knowledge of this meaning, the reader need only turn to "Reply to a Lady Editor," the poet's tongue-in-cheek response to the editor of a woman's magazine who had clearly missed the poem's suggestiveness; Roethke there calls Dan Cupid a "braw laddie-buck," and advises the editor just to lean herself back if be should arrive.

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Criticism Overview
Title Karl Malkoff: On "I Knew a Woman" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Karl Malkoff Criticism Target Theodore Roethke
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 22 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Theodore Roethke: An Introduction to the Poetry
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