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Root Cellar

for Baritone and Piano

text by Theodore Roethke 
Recipient of the Joseph Downey Award 2015

​Root Cellar is an art song for Baritone and piano with text by the great American poet Theodore Roethke.  This poem is part of a larger set that has been labeled as Roethke's "Greenhouse Poems" as each one explores a different aspect of botanical life.  As a child, the poet spent a lot of his formative years in his father's greenhouse, and his poems artfully draw connections between biological human processes and natural plant processes.  "Root Cellar" vividly depicts the tumultuous and emotionally charged period of adolescence by comparing it to the "obscene", "dank" plants that are waiting impatiently to take root.


Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!--
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.

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