Shortly after Roethke's untimely death, Allen Tate hailed his ""perfect honesty"" and his status as ""a great lyric poet who had mastered the traditional lyric forms and made them new."" These extravagant claims seem to have set the general posthumous evaluation, but it hardly appears likely that the future will bear them out. Professor Malkoff's study gingerly touches upon Roethke's defects (rhetorical haziness, sentimentality of theme or idea, derivativeness), while treating him in the main as a major poet who ultimately forged his own style and produced a body of work remarkable for its range, visionary splendor, and musical strength. The argument advanced takes full and appropriate note of Roethke's metaphysical concerns, his ""lost world"" of childhood, the greenhouse imagery, his recurrent battle with mental exhaustion, the intricate roots of his inspiration (from Yeats to crisis-theology), and his prickly, ambitious, ultra-sensitive responses to people and the world. Drawing upon just about all previous Roethke commentaries, neatly balanced with some randomly perceptive insights of his own, Malkoff offers a reliable, well-canvased introduction to the man and his poems. The professor's prose might best be described as homogenized: no cream ever rises to the top. In the end, though, one is not convinced by the refined adulatory aura. A deeper, colder look is necessary.