by Theodore Roethke
The Waking Theme of Life, Consciousness, and Existence
For a short, deceptively simple poem, “The Waking” isn’t afraid to take on the BIG subjects, like fate (see the "Fate and Free Will" theme), the various states of consciousness, nature, death, or God. From the very first line, and really, through every line that follows, you know that you’ve entered the mind of an individual who has a complex inner life, who is attuned to the many nuances of his own perceptions and thoughts, and who experiences the world from this place of heightened awareness.
Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence
- Do you agree that we think by feeling? Why or why not? What would the speaker say?
- Do the many observations and perceptions expressed in this poem reflect the workings of mental illness? How do you know?
- To whom does the speaker give greater honor, Nature or God? How can you tell? What would that say about the speaker?
- What does the speaker mean by “the shaking”?
Chew on This
Waking and sleeping are joined for this vision. They are both states in which deep observation about the world is possible. (Don’t try sleep-driving, though.)
The speaker shows us how feeling brings you closer to God—not as in, you know, dead, but as in spiritually in touch.