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Yonie Penev

Mrs. Dawn Weathersbee


AP Literature and Composition
14 November 2013
Explication of The Waking by Theodore Roethke
The poem The Waking by Theodore Roethke doesnt necessarily tell a story, but develops
how the narrator feels in accordance to his fate. It could be interpreted that the narrator, most
likely the author himself (considering the intense introspective and contemplative nature of the
poem purpose of said poem is most likely personal; for Roethke himself, but also sharing such a
personal life lesson could have been among one of his goals), was having a clash with his fate or
ultimate destiny but eventually accepts it and becomes one with it. He achieves a heightened
state of spiritual transcendence through his understanding of the eternal. Death and life, two of
the most widely used subjects for not just poetry but for all art, are the focal points of this poem.
Roethke in fact has metaphors for the two: waking is to life as sleeping is to death. I wake to
sleep, and take my waking slow, the refrained lines of the poem, suggest that the author literally
lives to die, (because that is the goal of life, to die), and lives to the fullest extent he can,
(because one must take every opportunity that life gives them, preferably).
The diction of this poem isnt one of the most elaborate, but it is certainly one of the most
well crafted and well constructed. It has to be that way, naturally-poetry relies on the
manipulation of word sounds to achieve a harmonious effect-but Roethkes command of words
to achieve rhyme really accentuates the poems meaning.
The subject of the eternal has always been a vague one. There have not been any proven
cases of someone coming back from the other side-if there has been somebody that has done
that, then all the literature about the eternal would lose its luster and appeal. Thats why primary
sources are, after all, consulted first and foremost. Roethkes poem may come across as vague-
he never actually states if he going to die or if the journey in the poem is about life- but in telling
this seemingly vague poem, Roethke achieves a harmonious effect through his efficient,
sonorous, and natural form. The structure of the poem is what gives life to its content. The
Waking is a villanelle, a type of form which the poem contains five three-line stanzas, and a final
quatrain. The first and third lines of the first stanza are alternately repeated as a refrain that
closes the following stanzas, and are joined as a final couplet of the quatrain. The refrain of the
central ideas, I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow and I learn by going where I have to
go serve to further reinforce the theme of acceptance. Oneness with the universe, the cycle of
life and death are exemplified by the repetition of those lines-it achieves a musical quality that
gets across to the reader. The mechanics of this poem include refrain, consonance, and
approximate consonance, for achieving a musical quality to serve the meaning of the poem.
The tone of The Waking is one of contemplation, the narrator is learning to accept his
fate, rather than oppose or fear it. The readers attitude changes in accordance with the narrators
transcendence into a higher state of understanding, both of himself and the world outside
himself, and that was one of Roethkes message from this poem-to transfer that wisdom on to the
reader.

Work Cited
Arp, Thomas R., Greg Johnson, and Laurence Perrine. "Musical Devices." Perrine's
Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage
Learning, 2009. N. pag. Print.
Pinkus, Susan. "On Roethke's "The Waking"" MR. Bauld's English Website. Explicator,
1992. Web. 14 Nov. 2013.