" Root Cellar " by Theodore Roethke
This reading guide is meant to develop your ability to read and understand texts through literal, figurative,
and applied levels of reading comprehension. You may need to read the poem a few times to uncover the
underlying meaning of the poem. What is the poem’s theme? How does the poem’s descriptions and use of
figurative language develop the theme?
1. Column A contains words that are found in " Root Cellar". Column B
contains synonyms for the words in column A. Write the letter of the word from column B
that is the synonym for the word in column A.
________ Dank a. Over-ripe
________ Chinks b. Pliable
________ Silo-rich c. Lumber
________ Planks d. Assembly
________ Pulpy e. Repulsively
________ Obscenely f. narrow cracks
________ Congress g. Damp
2. The following is a list of phrases from the poem. Select the phrase or phrases,
which suggest that the cellar is a hostile environment for life.
______ "Dank as a ditch" ______"In the dark"
______ "Lollingly obscenely" ______ " Bulbs broke out of boxes"
______ "Mildewed crates" ______ "Slippery planks"
3. The following is a list of phrases from
the poem. Select the phrase or phrases, which suggest a determined struggle
to survive óf living things clinging tenaciously to life: "Nothing would give
_____ "Nothing would sleep." _____ "Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich"
_____ "Even the dirt kept breathing" _____ "Nothing wouldgive up life"
_____ "Shoots dangled and drooped" ______ "Lolling obscenely from
4. Underline the words or phrases below which suggests that an unappealing, and
hostile environment such as the cellar has an negative effect upon the living—twists
and distorts the living.
Bulbs broke out of boxes
Shoots dangled and drooped
Long yellow evil necks
Like tropical snakes
A congress of stinks
5. Which of the following best describes the tone of the
_____ Playful, ______ Ironic, _____ Satiric, ______ Condescending
_____ Serious, ______ Solemn, _____ Intimate
6. Identify the following as either literal or figurative
______ Bulbs broke out of boxes
______ Shoots dangled and drooped
______ <Shoots> hung down . . .like tropical snakes
______ Roots ripe as old bait
7. Identify the figurative images as either similes or
Remembering a simile is a stated comparison and a metaphor
is an implied
8. Write a one paragraph interpretation of the poem. Develop a topic sentence that states what the poem’s theme is
and then support your claim in the following sentences. Use two quotes from poem to support your
interpretation. What is the poem’s message about life?
To receive full credit, use the following structure for your paragraph. This structure is a used in academic
writing and it is expected that you use this format in your essays for this class and in college.
Academic paragraph structure (8 sentence paragraph)
1. Topic sentence- states the single main idea that the paragraph proves, discusses, or argues. In this case it
will be a statement that states the theme/ poem’s main point.
2. States the first argument that supports your topic sentence (idea #1 that supports your topic sentence)
3. Use a quote/paraphrase to support idea #1 (Must cite your source. Use the author’s last name an page
number. If there is no page number than simply use the author’s last name. Example: (Roethke)
4. Analyze the quote. How does the quote you chose support your claim in idea #1? Explain
5. State idea #2 that supports the topic sentence
6. Quote/ paraphrase that supports idea #2
7. Analyze quote. How does the quote you chose support your claim in idea #2? Explain
8. Conclusion/ transition- In this sentence, conclude your paragraph and transition into the paragraph when