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17 Feb

The Waking: Theodore Roethke

The Waking: Theodore Roethke

The Waking”, by Theodore Roethke  is a poem that can be interpreted in any number of ways depending on what frame of mind the reader is in at the time he or she reads it. The poem describes the human desire to capture the meaning of life. But we learn the truth about life in fits and bouts of waking and slumber. Waking symbolizes enlightenment, illumination and self discovery.

Roethke writes using metaphors. He did not quite understand what was happening. He was feeling lost in his own mind. By repeating the line, "I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow" some believe that the poem is about a person who is waking from a long sleep. It may be his own never-ending nightmare. As he feels fate he is not afraid of fate. He accepts it. He does not want to resist fate. He is aware where his journey would ultimately take him. He knows that his journey is towards death .

When in sleep a person experiences eternity. He is unwilling to move back from sleep into the ordinary world of the intellect. Roethke's unusual play on words like, "I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow."  seems to suggest that he is contemplating his own death or the death of someone close to him. Once awake he slowly understands that he has to die one day. So the life of a person is a learning process. We should understand that life and death are opposed forces .The world of the living and dead are never separate. It is a cycle.

Roethke's short poem successfully uses metaphors to express his feeling of impending doom. In the first line of the third stanza he asks, "Of those so close beside me, which are you?"   he   is wondering if God or a higher being is waiting for him when he dies. Roethke creatively and effectively uses a metaphor in writing the line, "Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?"   Painting another picture of God or a higher being never mentioning Him by name.

When analyzing “The Waking” the title is a metaphor within itself. At first glance the poem is setup with the line, "I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow"   appearing in stanzas one, two, four, and six. With rhyming words in the first and third line, throughout the small poem, and second line of each stanza rhyming throughout Roethke’s work the poem has a comfortable flow. It is a self-reflexive poem that describes waking up from sleep. It comments on the unknowable in a contemplative mood. It also has been interpreted as comparing life to sleep.

It is in the form of a villanelle, a 19 lined closed verse form consisting of five successive tercets rhyming aba followed by a closing quatrain rhyming abaa.

Courtesy: Prof Pius Ozhakal

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