I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. (1)
This sentence, like many of Roethke’s, would drive an English language learner crazy. Does the speaker mean that he wakes in order to sleep, to the nature of sleep, or that he is halfway between waking and sleeping? Just like those poets to take simple words and make the idea behind them so complex. It’s a slow process, we get that, but to what? With such a paradox as this, we realize we’ve entered a consciousness unlike the usual programming. We’re about to be honored with an account of a vision.
I learn by going where I have to go. (3)
What could be more wholesome or hopeful than learning? No matter how bad things get, and we all know they can get pretty bad, if you’ve learned something from it, there’s a kind of redemption. The speaker may be obliged to go where he does, but he’s not being dragged along mindlessly. Nope. He’s gaining greater knowledge and experience.
We think by feeling. What is there to know? (4)
Look out for cogitation overload! This one line has three different kinds of consciousness in various combinations. Thinking, feeling, knowing—how are they distinct? If we think by feeling, can we say we feel by thinking, or does it work that way? What’s the math term for that? “Commutative,” right? Didn’t expect to find such a math geek word in describing a poem, did you? But it’s not so out of place, after all.
The speaker is asking us to consider how we come to our understanding of the world. Do you we get it by thinking? Feeling? Knowing? Can we ever really know anything, or is the world as subjective as “getting” it through our own feeling might lead us to believe?