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Poem Analysis the Waking by Theodore Roethke

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The Waking”, by Theodore Roethke (Roethke, 2003) 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 Roethke's offering. Roethke writes using metaphors. He did not quite understand what was happening feeling lost in his own mind or could it have been his own looming death. On the other hand, by repeating the line, "I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow" (Roethke, 2003) some may believe the poem is about person who is waking from a long sleep, or perhaps what Roethke considers his own never-ending nightmare. Poems are written from how the author’s heightened senses perceive what the author is writing. A writer often  express feelings in a style only he or she completely understands, leaving the audience to analyze the writers offering, at times the reader completely understands what the writer is expressing, and other times, only the author can interpret the writing for his or her audience. 


 Stanzas in poems establish a rhythm or rhyme thus creating the flow or mood the poet wants his or her audience to experience (University or Phoenix, 2008). In “The Waking,” Roethke uses stanzas effectively throughout, until the end of his writing, where Roethke seems to end his poem abruptly. Although the rhythm was not thrown off much, the final stanza did not seem to be constructed as well as the rest of his poem, instead of adding another stanza that read the same as the others before, Roethke decided to add an extra line leaving the reader wanting just a little more than he offered.


 Theodore Roethke's use of words evokes the imagination and causes the reader to wonder what he was going through in his life when he wrote “The Waking.” Roethke's unusual play on words he uses as he writes, "I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow." (Roethke, 2003) seems to suggest he is contemplating his own death or the death of someone close to him. However, some in his audience may believe he is writing about coming out of a nightmare that often comes to him, and unable wake himself.

 Figurative Language, Rhythm, and Rhyme

 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?" (Roethke, 2003), no other explanation is needed, his audience is aware that 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?" (Roethke, 2003) painting another picture of God or a higher being never mentioning Him by name.

When Roethke wrote, “The Waking,” his use of rhythm, and rhyme when he chose his words to express feelings and paints the image he desires his audience to envision. Roethke effectively used figurative language, along with rhythm, and rhyme, to allow his readers to understand what he is feeling. For such a short poem the dynamic wording and writing of “The Waking” is incredibility well constructed and easily understood.

When analyzing “The Waking” the title is a metaphor within itself, as Roethke writes of darkness, the title suggests just the opposite. At first glance the poem is setup with the line, "I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow" (Roethke, 2003) 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.


 The punctuation Roethke uses throughout the poem is similar in its length as it is for each line of his work. This helps to keep the rhythm of the poem consistent (University or Phoenix, (2008). The first exception in his writing is in the second line of the third stanza, the flow is slightly disrupted with the explanation point, which changes fluctuation in the tone of the poem. When reading “The Waking,” initially, the slight change in tone is difficult to follow in mid sentence and keep the rhythmic flow of the poem. However, because the lengths of the lines in the poem are comparably well written as the first five stanzas were constructed while the tone is easily reestablished.

The only problem with this poem is the last stanza. Understanding this is a proper format used in poetry, the final stanza of the poem seems almost rushed to conclude the poem. Leaving the audience wanting more of an explanation of exactly what the outcome of the little poem with the interesting line, "I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow" (Roethke, 2003). However, the charm of this poem may be what drew me to this poem, and why I was drawn to analyze “The Waking” in the first place.


 Analyzing this poem was an interesting assignment to take on, not having any experience with poetry, I found it challenging yet not as difficult as I feared. This poem jumped off the page when I was looking for a poem that appealed to what I have experienced in life, and one that had so much meaning in so few words. I was able to understand the poem and enjoyed analyzing it almost as much.

The one portion of this poem I did not particularly like was the last stanza, which I believe I expressed within the body of my analysis. This is likely due to everything rapped up instead of left hanging and that is how I believe I was left at the very end of “The Waking.” Then again, that is often what makes an authors writing so appealing.


 Roethke, Theodore. (May 17, 2003). “The Waking,” (Favorite Poems)."  The Christian Century 120.10 11(1). General OneFile, Gale, Apollo Library. August15, 2008. From:

University or Phoenix, (2008), English 340, Week one, Content Notes. Retrieved August 12, 2008

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