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Yonie Penev

Mrs. Dawn Weathersbee


AP Literature and Composition
14 November 2013 (REVISED DATE: 7 May 2014)
Explication of The Waking by Theodore Roethke REVISION
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 its purpose is most likely personal; for Roethke himself, personal life lesson could have
also been the poets 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 is not the most elaborate, but it is certainly one of the most well
crafted and well constructed. Roethkes command of words to achieve rhyme accentuates the
poems meaning poetry relies on the manipulation of word sounds to achieve a harmonious effect
The subject of the eternal has always been vague. There have not been any proven cases
of someone coming back from the other side-if somebody had done that, then all of the literature
about the eternal would lose its luster. 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 opposing it. The readers attitude changes in accordance with the narrators
transcendence into a higher state of understanding, and that was one of Roethkes messages from
this poem-to transfer that wisdom 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.
NOTES ON REVISION:
For this piece I merely had to cut out extraneous information; I tend to ramble on when I
am not sure of whether I answered the prompt or not. I feel like I did a thorough job at
analyzing the poem. The highlighted portions are the edits to the work.