The Waking – Theodore Roethke – Analysis

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963)

This iambic pentameter villanelle was written in 1953. The poem suggests the nature of life and an approach to living through experience.

In a villanelle the repetitive lines appear together in the last two lines –
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go

These are the key lines that emphasise the main thought concept.

How can you wake to sleep … it seems a contradiction … perhaps what he is saying is that even when awake he is never fully aware … never fully appreciative, so in away asleep of all that is around him as he leads his life … so life is a process of awareness and enlightenment? To take my waking slow … this might be a plea to enjoy life as you live!

Another view to the phrase I wake to sleep … indicating a reluctance to face life for whatever reason?

We learn by going … by life-experience … and hopefully we go where we have to go … do we have an ordained path? … a path specific for us to follow? … how do we work out where we have to go? … only by going and following our heart.

In the third stanza there is a humbleness and respect for others when they are involved – I shall walk softly there.

We think by feeling … I think in a way this is true in that our thinking and feeling go hand in hand and as we think we know and experience a ‘yes this is right’ response within. And life throws many situations at us that cause emotional reaction needing thoughtful response. Whether we are fated is another matter.

In the fifth stanza Great Nature is a beautiful guiding force in growth … but we do not know how, how the tree takes light or light takes the tree.

And in the last stanza – What falls away is always. And is near … experience continually falls away fixed … we cannot change the past … but it may be near to us in how we continue to live especially when we have made a few regrettable decisions.

Theodore Roethke on Wikipedia


Fidelity – D. H. Lawrence


Man and woman are like the earth, that brings forth flowers
in summer, and love, but underneath is rock.

Older than flowers, older than ferns, older than foraminiferae,
older than plasm altogether is the soul underneath.

And when, throughout all the wild chaos of love
slowly a gem forms, in the ancient, once-more-molten rocks
of two human hearts, two ancient rocks,
a man’s heart and a woman’s,
that is the crystal of peace, the slow hard jewel of trust,
the sapphire of fidelity.
The gem of mutual peace emerging from the wild chaos of love.

D.H. Lawrence (1885 – 1930)

foraminiferae = order of protozoans usually marine organism with perforated shells
plasm = colourless coagulation part of blood in which the corpuscles float

This prose style poem is often used as a marriage piece. It highlights the centuries old soul-bond of man and woman. And the foundation of a relationship is on-going trust and fidelity. This is likened to the formation of a gem in a rock to form the conceit. And the words suggest that it is not easy to maintain trust and fidelity within the wild chaos of love. This phrase is repeated emphasising the nature of love and the demands experienced in developing an on-going relationship.

Of course gems and jewels are usually part of the marriage ceremony so these metaphoric words go hand in hand in stressing fidelity.

The problem is that word foraminiferae – what exactly does it mean and how to you pronounce it if you have to read the poem at a wedding! It is a word trap that takes the mind away from focusing on a smooth reading, never the less the emphasis on fidelity is crystal clear!

D. H. Lawrence on Wikipedia

IF – Rudyard Kipling – Comments


IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936) – Text taken from the Net … it could have errors.

This poem consists of four eight line rhyming iambic pentameter stanzas. The whole poem is instruction on the way to live life – a father talking to a son. Instruction is based on the word IF … the Ifs that may happen in life and the advice response is elaborated.

This poem came in #1 in the search for the most favourite poem by the UK Bookworm programme in 1995. So the advice offered must have had some resonance with the UK public. And maybe his father had lived through some harrowing experiences such as risking all his money on one turn of pitch-and-toss.

And if the son succeeds in making that appropriate response then the son becomes ‘a Man’, it being so important for the son to succeed and become ‘a Man‘. The son having more importance than a daughter which is still prevalent in so many societies and situations! The poem must be viewed against the historical context.

The poem can have a universal dimension of instruction with a few amendments such as …
S1 … line 3 … If you can trust yourself when everybody doubts you,
S4 … line 4 … If all peoples count with you, but none too much;
And in the last line … And – what is more – you’ll be some hero!

However, this loses something for it is Father-Son talking and poems must adhere to the concrete of the text of the poet, so the latent universal is there for the reader to accept independent of Father-Son and those looking for some kind of gender equality should do so in this light and not colour appreciation this way.

If you can read a poem for full appreciation
without letting personal preference shade your understanding.

There are, of course, many cases where text is changed for gender equality but poetry is not the case!

Full details of the poem IF on Wikipedia
A link to Rudyard Kipling on Wikipedia

Awash in Smoke – Australian Bushfires



Burnt Bush – Batemans Bay, NSW

Awash in Smoke

in the shock aftermath death knell
on a day hard to happen
a dull blue twist slowly ascends
into the sullen smoke hangover

the stubborn littered ground aglow
as the after-life scrub still smoulders,
like a discarded cigarette butt
menacing cancer

blackened tangled gum trunks
twist fingers into the lost sky
while a dead kangaroo silhouetted
dissolves in the shifting smoke

life stalls in the depressed choke
of the continued fall of dust cladded air

Richard Scutter 9 January 2020

Context –

The current Australian bushfires are unprecedented in their magnitude and destruction. They have been extensive across all States and have destroyed massive areas of bush. And they are still burning at the time of this Post. The current loss is 2,316 homes and over 24 lives coupled with considerable stock loss.

World Wildlife Conservation estimate that 1.25 billion animals have died and of course their habitat decimated. Australia is a very large country and continent and some of the tracks of land involved in the fires are bigger than European countries.

Smoke from these fires has clouded and polluted many towns and cities not directly connected with the destruction and fires. This has been the case in Canberra over the last three weeks. The intensity of the smoke depends on wind direction but on some days Canberra has been the most polluted major city in the world.

The world-wide response to this on-going tragedy has been quite amazing. I give my heartfelt thanks for all this support and to those that have donated to the funding of the recovery effort. Unfortunately the scars are severe and it will take many years for the regrowth to take hold but the bush is resilience and it will recover!

Angels – Mary Oliver – Comments


You might see an angel anytime
and anywhere. Of course you have
to open your eyes to a kind of
second level, but it’s not really
hard. The whole business of
what’s reality and what isn’t has
never been solved and probably
never will be. So I don’t care to
be too definite about anything.
I have a lot of edges called Perhaps
and almost nothing you can call
Certainty. For myself, but not
for other people. That’s a place
you just can’t get into, not
entirely anyway, other people’s heads.

I’ll just leave you with this.
I don’t care how many angels can
dance on the head of a pin. It’s
enough to know that for some people
they exist, and that they dance.

Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019)

This is all to do with how we and others see the world. We know what we see and how we feel. How we articulate this in a way that others can understand is another matter. And equally the converse is true.

And how much do we understand another person? But to help there is that intersecting commonality between peoples based on common life experience and the fact that we are all of the human variety.

In this poem by Mary Oliver there is a plea to be accepting of what others say however ridiculous it might seem. And she suggests living in the ‘perhaps’ for it is true that we can never really get into the head of another. So if someone says they have seen an ‘angel’ or anything else truly out of the ordinary then who are we to deny the sighting and in due course perhaps we might see the same.

Of course ‘angels’ come in many forms and there is one sitting in the chair across the room at the moment. I don’t know about the dancing element!

Perhaps the first stanza is sufficient combined with the first line of the second, if I might suggest my perhaps on first reading this poem.

Mary Oliver died in January last year … a Wikipedia link 

Smoke – Michael Symmons Roberts – Comments


First one tree, then another, horizons close
towards us, house-lights dim and drown.
The huge, low moon dissolves. Pray in us,

spirit, animus, holy ghost among
the wet leaves, in the smoke’s mute song.
Eyes sting. All perspective gone.

One building bleeds into another.
Torch beams shrink to dandelions
Headlamps fade to dull gems set in cars.

Distances collapse. Shouts could cross
streets, valleys, oceans. Silence, broken
by a siren on another continent.

And what burns? Sweet and salt,
bracken, berries, hair. What new edifice
hardens within, waits for world to sharpen.

Michael Symmons Roberts (1963

Animus – hostility
Edifice – structure

This poem, written by UK poet Michael Symmons Roberts in 2011, marries nicely with the smoke drenched city of Canberra as the wanton bushfires send their hangover dust into Canberra from the devastation on the NSW south coast.

A clear message that is not going away – long after the smoke dissipates!

Unfortunately the Australian Prime Minister (Scott Morrison) is not showing the leadership needed to address climate change in an adequate way – waiting for some serious sharpening.

Below Black Mountain Tower, Canberra shrouded in smoke (3 January 2019) …


A link to Michael Symmons Roberts on Wikipedia.

The Darkling Thrush – Thomas Hardy – Analysis

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928)

Darkling – meaning ‘in the dark’ has a certain musicality when spoken like the call of a bird.
Coppice – dense area of small trees
Spectre-grey – ghostly grey
Dregs – waste particles at the bottom of a liquid, last remaining particles
Lyre – plucked string instrument associated with ancient Greece

S1 … of course it is northern hemisphere winter… and it is a pretty dark dismal affaire … the ‘dregs’ of winter coupled with the weakening eye of pallid sunless days. Dregs conjures up many images of the winter landscape but the end of December is hardly the end of winter although the solstice has passed. Tree branches are tangled and broken against the winter sky like the strings of a broken musical instrument.

S2 … The landscape becomes likened to a dead body (corpse) with coffin not quite closed … and the pulse of germ and birth not heard … nice choice of germ for seed for it has negative connotations … the death life spirit matches the mood of the poet … a somewhat depressive mood. (fervourless = lacking in any energy)

S3 … But then the sound of a thrush is heard against the bleak winter gloom … a full-hearted evensong … with joy (illimited = unlimited) … from a bird aged, gaunt, frail and small … an evensong coming from the most unlikely of birds … not the greatest specimen – mirroring something of beauty coming from the bleak winter (be-ruffled = fluffing out)

S4 … There is nothing to be cheerful about … so little cause for carolling … it is near Christmas … but that is not the perspective from the bird’s point of view … perhaps the bird and nature know better … hope springs eternal.

The theme is the somewhat dark reflection on the closing century for it was written at the end of December 1900. It is certainly an appropriate poem for the end of this decade when it is easy to get hooked by dark happenings. And especially the havoc caused across the world by weather extremes.

However, there is hope … and in the bleakest of times there is always some element of contrast to give joy … some little ray of sunshine, or tiny spark … hopefully something to take you out of depression … to catch your attention away from your troubles … something to look forward to in the New Year, to give hope … in Australia we are taking more than a tiny spark into the New Year!

Happy New Year!

Thomas Hardy on Wikipedia

a related poem on the not-going-away environment concern

… relentless, unprecedented bushfires in Australia this summer, New Year fireworks have been cancelled in Canberra … and it is a very smoky capital today.

Magical Memories – Christmas reflections

Context …

The following prose poem was written reflecting back on my childhood days when aged eight. We lived in a small village in northern Hampshire, the village and surrounds were the totality of my world. December and Christmas was always a magical time. There was that anticipation of early snow though it seldom fell before Christmas Day. Snow completely transformed the local village scene and it was always fun to get out and play in the white environment. Christmas was equally magical because of times with family and the sharing of presents. I have tried to highlight a few specific memories in the stanzas below. Of course Christmas completely changed the world in a much deeper way but at that time I had little understanding of the significance.

Magical Memories

Christmas is always something magical.
At least it is for me because of early childhood
days. They have continuing home-life warmth
emphasised by the northern hemisphere cold
of December and the walking of narrow country
lanes in the search for holly with red berries.

Coming home from school late in the afternoon
and looking from the dining room bay window.
The air imperceptibly perforating as a soft watery
substance touched the glass and seeing the moist
dabs as they coalesced into droplets sending
a sequence of random runs down the pane.

Occasionally it would snow before Christmas.
Watching the slow parachuting drift of the first flakes
as they disappeared before my eyes and waiting
patiently for firmer definition on the window,
and becoming fixated with the formation of
each imprint before testing for uniqueness.

In those days we had a real Christmas tree with
electric lights which didn’t always meet expectations.
Many hours were spent making chain decorations
which drooped across the room from pelmets and light
fittings. One year the tree was planted in the garden
and over the years it grew quite sizable.

Christmas Day was the culmination of days of preparation.
The traditional end of bed pillow-slip presents and
turkey and trifle, but the closeness of immediate family
is always paramount. I remember my older brother
making me a fort with a draw-bridge. The lounge room
floor was the playground for toy soldier battles and
this became an impressive centre piece for play.

On Boxing Day we usually hosted extended family. They
often had to brave bleak conditions to reach our place.
My uncle Norman had a motorbike with a sidecar and
at times this was used to ferry grandma. The small
kitchen table was brought into the dining-room for
the little children to sit at for their Christmas feast.

After the meal it was recovery time in the lounge.
Often with a musical flavour for my mother
was quite adept at the piano. And we had a ‘Pianola’
that would transform holes into the playing of keys.
The screening of family slides coupled a staccato
of rueful comments with much laughter and tears.

Yes, Christmas is always something magical.
And of course the distancing of the years embellish
the memories of those precious childhood days, so you
could say ‘Happy Christmas’ is engendered by
simply a mind recall. Hoping your Christmas Day is
a real happy one. Merry Christmas!

Richard Scutter Christmas Day 2019