The Waking by Theodore Roethke

Today I am sharing with you a mystical poem by Roethke. This is one of those poems that you keep reading and going back to. Each time you read it, you realize there is so much hidden in these simple yet paradoxical lines! Let’s read the poem first so you see what I mean:

~~~

The Waking by Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

~~~

I believe what the poet was trying to convey through his poem is the sense of mystery that is inherent in the cycle of life. Let us look at a few lines that intrigue me –

“I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.”
He seems to imply that sleep is some kind of an awakening that we need to aspire for. And when we are able to achieve that kind of ‘sleep’ then it is imperative that we wake from it slowly as it is a transformation happening. There is no need to rush.

“I learn by going where I have to go.”
One can only learn by doing it. We need to accept that we cannot know it all and that that is okay! Roethke is saying that he learns by going where he has to go. There is no other way to learn! It is destined so.

“We think by feeling. What is there to know?”
How true! Roethke believes that feeling is more important than knowing. Life needs to be felt. What is there to know? Maybe there is nothing to ‘know’. Just get in touch with your feelings. And then let go.

“This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.”
Another paradox! Have you ever thought of Shaking as a means to get Steady? How beautiful is that thought? Shaking could imply weakness or fear, while it could also mean something akin to ecstasy. There is such a thin line separating pain and pleasure that sometimes all it takes is a conscious attempt to feel things differently. I’m not saying its easy. But think about it.

I would love to discuss ALL the lines of Roethke’s wonderful surrealistic poem but then again, what is there to know, right? I would say just read it and keep coming back to it and just go with your ‘feeling’ of it. May you find your own beautiful meaning to these stunning lines. Learn by going where you have to go.

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