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Elegy for Jane

Elegy for Jane

by Theodore Roethke

Sadness Theme

We hate to be a Debbie Downer, but unfortunately sadness seems to be a much more persistent emotion than happiness. In "Elegy for Jane," once sadness shows up it seems to be just about unshakable. We expect an elegy to be sad, but traditionally they end with the speaker finding some kind of consolation. No such luck in "Elegy or Jane." In fact, by remembering Jane being happy in the first stanza, the gloom of sadness that shows up in the second stanza seems even darker.

Questions About Sadness

  1. Roethke describes Jane "cast[ing] herself down" into the "pure depth" of her sadness. How does the description of sad-Jane compare to the description of the wren (happy-Jane)? For example, what kind of movement or direction comes to mind when you think of a bird? How does that compare to the movement or direction in the description of sad-Jane? 
  2. When Jane was sad, she seemed beyond the reach of anyone. No one could pull her up from the depths of her sadness: "even a father could not find her." Who or what helps pull you up when you're down? If you were Jane's best friend, what would you have done to cheer her up? 
  3. How many idiomatic expressions for sadness can you think of that involve the notion of down or falling?

Chew on This

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

Jane should stop waiting around for her daddy to save her and cheer herself up. All she needs to do is change her perspective. Change your perspective and you can change your mood.

"Elegy for Jane" proves that Roethke believes sadness is a more powerful emotion than happiness. Crying for the win.

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