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Understanding Theodore Roethke's "The Waking"

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Bonnie Dunworth

on 14 September 2013

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Transcript of Understanding Theodore Roethke's "The Waking"

Understanding Theodore Roethke's "The Waking"
By: Bonnie Dunworth

Read through to get a general sense of the poem.
Try to understand the poem's meaning and organization.
Read the poem aloud, sounding each word clearly.
Complete understanding of Roethke's "The Waking."
The Waking
By: Theodore Roethke
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 is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.
Title
My Thoughts:
I had originally thought that the title was referring to someone waking up, but after taking the poem apart and reading two different criticisms, I have come to the conclusion that the title is referring to the someone becoming enlightened.
"The title is almost always informative" (Text). Neither Analysis paper discussed the title itself; however, after reading through each analysis, I was able to come to a conclusion about the title.
Speaker
Poems have "points of view just like prose fiction" (Text).
Susan Pinkus doesn't mention anything about the speaker. Brian Sfinas says that Roethke is the speaker.
My Thoughts:
Originally I thought that the speaker might be the author speaking, and after reading the poem a couple of times, I have determined that the speaker is indeed the author and because he is speaking from first person.
Setting
The setting of "The Waking" isn't apparent when the poem is first read. However, once read a few more times, the setting may become more apparent. Both of the analysts didn't mention where the setting takes place.
My Thoughts:
The setting is not an actual physical location, but rather it is within ourselves, either through the heart or mind.
Subject
Every poem has a subject. "The subject indicates the general or specific topic" (Text). Susan Pinkus describes the subject of "The Waking" as a "dead aim on the eternal." Brian Sfinas says that on the surface, "The Waking" seems to be describing the "process of sleeping and waking, but with further inspection he says that it brings up "a few interesting transcendental ideas."
My Thoughts:
The subject of "The Waking" is about how we become more open-minded through the practice of sleeping and waking.
Theme
"Theme refers to the idea or ideas that the poem explores" (Text). Further into Susan Pinkus' paper, the reader will find that Pinkus focuses the theme on the cycle of life. Brian Sfinas' paper concludes that the theme is an "interpretation of the meanings of life and death."
My Thoughts:
The theme of Roethke's "The Waking" focuses on the life cycle using life and death to describe how we come to a more enlightened state.
Form
The form of "The Waking" has been described as a villanelle by both analysts. Five three-lined stanzas that end with a quatrain is a villanelle. The rhyme scheme is an A,B,A,A,B,A until it reaches the final stanza, and then it changes.

Roethke also uses the notion of paradox to convey the difficulty of the process of enlightenment. "A paradox is a statement containing two diametrically opposite ideas that ultimately join together in one meaning." Roethke uses waking and sleeping as his main paradox.
Development
The form of the poem not only helps convey Roethke's meaning, but also helps the development. Pinkus describes the development as circular. She is right on the money with that. The circular form of the poem supports the idea of the life cycle being the theme. The speaker is constantly waking from sleep, but with each awakening, he becomes a little more enlightened.
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