Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Robert Shafer

Second Advisor

Dr. Stephanie Demetrakopoulis

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


In "Meditations of an Old Woman," Theodore Roethke poetically encountered death, speaking through the persona of an old woman approaching the end of life. The pattern she follows, wandering through her memory in search of the maiden she once was, is also found in the myth of Demeter and Persephone, which was ritualized in the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece. The poem, myth, and ritual taken together reflect a single archetypal pattern for approaching death; comparing them will reveal the essence of each. Through recollection, the old woman finally unites with her lost youthful self in an epiphany similar to that experienced by the initiates in the Eleusinian Mysteries. In their epiphany, a Divine Child was born, represented in the myth by a youth who carries Demeter’s gift of grain to humankind after her reunion with Persephone. For Roethke’s old woman, the child manifests as a new state of consciousness, freed from the "dreary dance of opposites," sending love to the world, and unafraid of death, perceiving it as part of the divine plan at the heart of life.