Theodore Roethke's The Waking

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The waking, by Theodore Roethke, is a villanelle type of poem. It is considered to be of this type because it refers to a rustic dance or song. Villanelles have three line stanzas and a single quatrain and so it has a total of 19 lines. The rhyme schemes of the stanzas is ABA while that of the single quatrain is ABAA. This does not mean that the first, as well as the third lines of the stanzas, have an exact end rhyme. In the waking, the first, third, fourth and sixth line all end with an O rhyme.  However, in the following lines, the A rhyme changes. For instance, line 7 ends with a change in rhyme, “you” this has a long U sound in it. Looking at line 10 and 12, there is more of this eye rhyme.

Therefore, while the rhyme can greatly be predicted, it evolves and shifts with the development of the poem. This comes out as fitting in a poem where the speaker is talking about awakening. Therefore, the change that is in the rhyme scene appears to reflect the development. Another factor that changes and still remains the same are the refrains in the poems, there are two lines, that is, the first, which is refrain 1, and the third line which is refrain 2. They are repeated all over the poem but they are occasionally given some variation. Refrain 1 and refrain 2 in this poem are “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.” And “I learn by going where I have to go.” Respectively.

Even in cases where the repetition of these refrains has been done word for word, they can be read in a different way based on their context. The author of this poem has managed to use his poetic freedom switch in the line 15 refrain. “And, lovely, learn by going where to go.”  Just before one can decide whether this is a good or a bad thing, he inserts the word “lovely.”

In the poem, the author uses several styles. To begin with, he uses alliteration in the second line of the first stanza. He states that “I feel my fate

in what I cannot fear.” Here, he emphasizes emotions, fear, and fate. Alliteration is also repeated in the 15th and the 16th line. The speaker appears to imply that there is nothing to be feared and so he seems to be more awake as well as sure than he was before. In the last line of the first stanza, he seems to have overcome his fear and is now taking life lessons as they come and he is doing whatever he has to do.

Roethke also uses paradox. This is because he states that the logical thoughts of several individuals originate from their feelings that is viewed by most people as a contradiction. Humans are expected to be emotional and they can also experience feelings. One cannot, however, assert that feelings come as a result of logic. This is a contradiction.

In The second line of the second stanza, the speaker listens to himself while he is smiling and dancing internally. This poses a challenge to the reader since he has to interpret the dance which can be compared to the dance of life. The dance does not explain everything and wants the readers to consider some of these things.

The speaker also uses imagery to paint a picture of what is being described in the poem. In the 8th line, he puts the ground and god in the same level since he has capitalized both of them and combined them in the alliteration. This is a relief that the world is not simply a matter of the human invention. It appears that the world is simply not a matter of the human invention.

 In the 10th line, the light has been personified. It is explained to be an explorer or some kind of thief that takes a tree. This comes out as an ambiguous image. One way in which this could be translated is that a tree is illuminated by light but there are more things that are going on. This s something we understand since the speaker immediately asks who can describe the manner in which this happens, its role and the meaning that it holds.

 In the 11th line, the speaker talks about Lowly Worm. This is a worm that has a unique smell of death and one would assume that that would bring the worm down, however, it does not. This is because even those who are low can make ascent by climbing up the stairs. The in13th and 14th lines, the speaker introduces nature. Nature is addressed by name and given a title that is respectable. This is a mark of power.  

In conclusion, this poem touches on the spiritual sensitivity of Roethke. It shows that his continued existence, as well as leaning, depends on the journey and that he is happy to take with him at least a single close person while the rest of world just watches.

Works cited

Roethke, Theodore. The Waking. The Favorite Poem Project. N.d. Web. April 13, 2018.

Steinbeigle, Barbara Bubon. "An Approach to Imagery in the Poetry of Theodore Roethke."(1969).

November 24, 2023

Life Literature

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Poetry Literature Review

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