Theodore Roethke and The Waking

Theodore Roethke and The Waking

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Theodore Roethke and The Waking


In describing the way he receives life's lessons and learned experiences, Theodore Roethke uses repetition of two different sentences and a simple rhyme scheme to help the reader understand his outlook on how to endure life. The two sentences repeated throughout the poem are "I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow" and "I learn by going where I have to go" [with slight variation in the latter]. "I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow" shows up in stanzas 1, 2, 4, and 6 and figuratively means that Roethke awakens in the morning and learns from the day's experiences. Unlike most people, Roethke does not rush through the day as if he expected another. He lives through the day in a calm and slow manner so that he learns about life without missing anything along the way. At night, he falls asleep content with the day's experiences and awakens the next morning in the same slow manner. When Roethke states "I learn by going where I have to go" in stanzas 1, 3, 5, and 6, he declares that he goes anywhere and everywhere to experience all that he can. He observes rare things throughout his journeys and makes mistakes along the way, but wherever he goes, he locks the experiences in his memory and repeats the cycle. The repetition of the sentences in the poem set a tone of determination and perseverance to enjoy all of life's experiences that come Roethke's way. The emotion portrayed by the sentences is an uplifting feeling because Roethke observes and enjoys even the most trivial aspects of life such as when "the lowly worm climbs up a winding stair." The rhyme scheme initiated by the author follows the rhyme scheme ABA in the first two stanzas, CDA in the third through fifth stanzas, and ABAA in the final stanza. This particular rhyme scheme creates a comfortable flow of overt rhyming. In the first two stanzas, the rhyming is the same (ABA) as Roethke talks about how to experience life by feeling. The rhyme scheme changes in the third through fifth stanzas as the focus in the topic changes to how Roethke epitomizes his "experience by feeling" idea by sharing the specific examples of the worm and the ground. The last stanza returns to an ABAA rhyme scheme much like that of the first two stanzas.

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The last stanza falls into the rhyme cycle because Roethke, in this stanza, is giving more advice and philosophies. The vowel sounds in the rhyming such as "o" and "e" sounds help slow the poem down to a smooth tempo. The smooth tempo of the vowel sounds agrees with Roethke's advice of how people should experience every day in a slow manner. The feeling that the vowels bring out is one of content, which describes Roethke's way of going through life. He is very content with his process of learning and experiencing.

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