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The Waking
The Waking
by Theodore Roethke

The Waking Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
  1. What does it mean to “wake to sleep” in this poem? Does this mean waking in order to sleep, or waking to the true nature of sleep, or something else? What parts of the poem give you your insight?
  2. If you had to rank the different levels of consciousness discussed in this poem (thinking, feeling, knowing, fearing, hearing, waking, sleeping) from 1 to 7 (1 being the highest form of consciousness), how would you rank them and why?
  3. What is the value of paradox in this poem? Why not just make a direct statement?
  4. Does the villanelle form improve the experience of this poem? Why or why not?
  5. What is the speaker’s position on fate? Is it a positive or negative force in life? How do you know?
  6. What effect do the questions have on the tone of the poem?
  7. How does Roethke’s earlier version of “The Waking” (1948) relate to this poem? How are they similar? How are they different?
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