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Themes

In "Elegy for Jane," happiness is a delicate, but highly contagious state—kind of like mono. It is something that, once achieved, can disappear suddenly and completely. Roethke's memories of Jane happy are juxtaposed with his memory of her in sadness. It is almost as if the knowledge of that fleeting, delicate happiness is partly responsible for the "pure depth" of her sadness.

Questions About Happiness

  1. To describe Jane in her happiness, Roethke compares her metaphorically to a wren. Does this comparison help the reader to understand or to "see" Jane's happiness, or does it just make her seem, well, flighty.
  2. When the wren is happy, she sings. When the wren sings, her song makes the twigs tremble and the shade and the mold join her in song. Considering the metaphorical connection between Jane and the bird, what is Roethke getting at here? 
  3. Roethke tells us about happy-Jane before he tells is about sad-Jane. How would the poem change if he told us about sad-Jane first? Does it matter which description comes first? Why or why not?
  4. What aspects of Jane's personality can you relate to? Is it easier for you to imagine happy-Jane or sad-Jane? Why? Would you want to hang out with Jane?
  5. Why or why not?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Jane's happiness is fleeting because Roethke wants her to represent the natural world and suffering is our natural state. Good times.

Sadness is no match for happiness. In "Elegy for Jane," even shade and mold (not happy guys) started singing a happy tune when they encountered the happy wren. In the presence of true happiness, sadness disappears.

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