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The Waking

Theodore Roethke

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comparison to Donne
Added by: Shymala Dason
Death is a place we have to go; also a metaphor for other such places. Roethke's poem can be read as a meditation on how he faces these. John Donne's "Death Be Not Proud" is very like in meaning, to me, and Donne was not depressive, bipolar or suicidal. He was a popular preacher in his day, and died Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral. It's easy to read Roethke's work as negative, but there's a danger of missing the point.
am i missing something?
Added by: Pat Bateman
Maybe im reading this poem wrong, but it seems this poem has absolutely nothing to do with death at all. there are allusions to death and life, but only as a metaphor for Roethke's cycle of Manic-depression. Given to confessional poetry, Roethke uses the villanelle's circular form and lack of progression to symbolize his own cycle of mania and depression.

second stanza: hearing his "being dance from ear to ear" is his mania (ear to ear, ie. a smile)

third stanza: bless the ground i shall walk softly there. went from a dancing consciousness to softly walking in the ground (ie. a type of death)

4th stanza: the lowly worm climbs the winding staircase. this is him climbing out of depression

5th stanza: take the lively air. enjoy being up again, because you going back eventually

It's documented he wrote while being depressed and explored his depression in order to draw upon it for his poetry. thus he "learns by going where i have to go" he learns about himself by going back down into depression again

This shaking keeps me steady: this constant cycle of mania and depression keeps me stable and grounded

what falls away is always. and is near: the happiness that falls away will always be there to return to, it's close by. (whoever it was that said this meant death was permanent - wow, just wow)

Roethke starts with the 'wake to sleep' and "learn by going' and thats where he ends up in the end as well. thats why he chose a villanelle
Serenity vs. gloom
Added by: Danielle
First off, I really appreciate the reference to Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that good night." It proves to be almost the perfect contrast to Roethke in that Thomas battles the notion of death, while Roethke has come to accept it.
Its much too pretentious to see Roethke as longing for death, as opposed to appreciating what left he has of life. He accepts fate, and even welcomes death, not because it is more favorable than life, but because it is inevitable. Furthermore, he seeks to embrace life and enjoying it through experience.
I think thats it, haha.
Added by: Valerie
I agree with most of the others that have already commented. I believe the poem talks about the process of life.
I just figure i would add that the line "I learn by going where i have to go." means wherever you go there is something to learn in life.

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