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

 

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