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The Waking

The Waking


by Theodore Roethke

Stanza 5 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Line 13-15

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go. 

  • You might have your day all planned out, but it better be just penciled in, because you’re not the only one who decides where you’ll go or what you’ll do. In comes Great Nature with a plan of her own. (Notice those capital letters again, the mark of importance.) You, like the speaker, might wake to sleep, but nature is about to do something, and here the line spills over, in an enjambment “to you and me.” That sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Could it be that Great Nature might be planning on a doing a death thing on us? If so, we might as well take the lively air—that is, live life fully.
  • Hey, is there another Yeats echo here? We think so. Remember the “breathless starlit air” from the earlier excerpt? Okay, yes, it’s a good rhyme with “stair,” and so would seem to belong with it, but there’s also the sense of entering a different element, distinct from worms and other material things.
  • And look, there’s another sighting of the word “take” with multiple possible meanings. Here it might mean breathe, or take airs (as in put on an act), or accept, or probably a bunch of other deep things. But the line goes on, enjambed, to finish in line 15, with an insertion of the word “lovely” into the refrain, which is now stated as a kind of instruction, a sort of “here’s what how to live life” moment.
  • If Great Nature has another plan for you, you might as well take the lively and air, and enjoy it. It’s lovely to learn by going where to go. Hit the brakes! What has happened to the refrain now? Where is the obligation of having to go? What does that mean anyway, “learn by going where to go.” Could it be that one learns the way by going there?
  • If we’re still thinking of death, then it’s not a scary, awful kind of death, is it? It’s “lively” and “lovely” (two such similar words). It’s a learning experience! Great Nature may be doing to us, but it doesn’t hurt.

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