Study Guide

Elegy for Jane Love

By Theodore Roethke

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"Elegy for Jane" certainly addresses Love, but it isn't quite what we might expect. We tend to put this big, complex emotion into three main categories: familial (the love felt between family members), romantic (often including a physical component—yes, we mean sex), and friendship (the love you might feel for a very close friend). So, which category does our speaker's love for Jane belong? Seems kind of tough to squeeze it into any these neat little boxes, which is precisely the problem Roethke wants us to consider.

Questions About Love

  1. In the poem's last three lines, the speaker declares his love for Jane and then says that he has "no right" to love her. What was your initial reaction to this ending?
  2. How did this ending make you feel? What, if anything, do you feel for the speaker at the end of this poem?
  3. When the speaker says he has no right to feel love for Jane is he responding to societal rules governing love? If so, what are they and why do they exist?
  4. How would this poem be different if Jane was the speaker's mother or sister or daughter or lover? Do you think Roethke would have chosen different similes and metaphors if the relationship between the speaker and Jane had been different? In what way would the figurative language have changed?

Chew on This

The speaker doesn't love Jane, he's just a tree-hugger, hung up on nature.

It is impossible to categorize, govern, or explain an emotion as powerful as love. As Emily Dickinson said, "The heart wants what it wants-or else it does not care."

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