Study Guide

Elegy for Jane Death

By Theodore Roethke

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"Elegy for Jane" is, well, an elegy, so death is going to come up. Much of the poem is spent remembering Jane as she was in life. But the core of the poem deals with the speaker's feelings about the death of a young, vibrant woman, Jane, and his inability to reconcile his feelings for her with societal expectations.

Questions About Death

  1. Jane was quite young when she died. Do you think this affected how Roethke felt about her death? Is there anything in the poem (aside from the subtitle) that indicates her youth?
  2. How would this elegy be different if it mourned the death of someone very old? How would the imagery have to change? Why?
  3. Is the speaker lamenting the death of Jane as an individual or is he really just saddened by what her death represents: the injustice, randomness, and cruelty of nature, to have taken someone so young and so vibrant?

Chew on This

Nice try, Ted. "Elegy for Jane" is less about mourning Jane's death than it is about Roethke's fear of death.

Roethke tries to get over Jane's death by connecting her to all the living things he is surrounded with. It doesn't work.

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