Poetry

Theodore Roethke – The Waking

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.

– Theodore Roethke


Theodore Roethke was an intensely introspective poet who suffered from bouts of bi-polar disorder and whose work has been hailed by critics as some of the finest American poetry from the last century. The Waking, which originally featured in an eponymous collection that won Roethke the Pulitzer prize in 1954, is a villanelle with repeated lines and echoes among the stanzas. There is a circular direction here of awakening, a slow, steady movement towards a reality that is becoming apparent, and which is being discerned by the senses rather than by some intellectual process, ‘learn by going where I have to go.’ Roethke was an admirer of Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as Walt Whitman, and during his lifetime was friends with William Carlos Williams.


 

The Waking

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.

 

Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)
From: The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke

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