Roethke’s villanelle, “The Waking,” written in iambic pentameter with a distinct rhyme scheme, flows smoothly from stanza to stanza. The topic of waking and sleeping or, more specifically, the cycle of life and death, is enhanced by the rhythmic movement of the poem’s outer form. Additionally, each stanzas is linked by a combination of two refrains that declare, “I sleep to wake and take my waking slow” (1, 6, 12, 18), and I “learn by going where I have to go” (3, 9, 15, 19). The repetition of these two lines provides a distinct rhythm that skillfully marks the passing of time. What is inferred by these two lines, and what is the significance of their repeated use by the speaker?
The first of several paradoxes in “The Waking,” the refrain, “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow” seems to express the existence of an altered state of consciousness during sleep, and in life’s limited time frame, the speaker decides to make the most of the journey. At the outset of the poem, the sp...
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...ns remain. The conclusion forms a complete circle as the speaker declares with reinforced certainty, “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. I learn by going where I have to go” (18-19). Finally, “The Waking” is a moving look at the paradoxical cycle of life, and the poetic form of this villanelle is perfectly enacted in its mystical language, rhyming patterns, and refrains.
Holy Bible, New American Standard Translation. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.
Roethke, Theodore. “The Waking.” Poems, Poets, Poetry, an Introduction and Anthology,
3rd Edition. Ed. Helen Vendler. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 571-572. Print.
“Theodore Roethke.” The Poetry Archive. Faber and Faber, Library of America, n.d. Web. 15
Vendler, Helen. Poems, Poets, Poetry, an Introduction and Anthology, 3rd Edition.
Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. Print.
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