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The Waking

The Waking

by Theodore Roethke

Analysis: What's Up With the Title?

For a poem that is anything but direct, the title tells it like it is. This is, in fact, a poem about waking or shifting states of consciousness and awareness. Sure, it’s complicated by a series of paradoxes (waking to sleep—what’s up with that?) and ambiguities (feeling fate in what cannot be feared) but on the surface, the title shoots straight.

What happens as the poem progresses is that different levels or layers of waking are explored, each sensation and sensory detail is isolated, each new state of consciousness is described. This waking is a kind of rousing to new heights of understanding, a new appreciation of both the alertness and the dreaminess of existence.

What else can you hear in the title? It’s hard not to also think of a wake, the ceremony that follows someone’s death. The creepy lore is that this is to wait to see if the corpse wakes up, so the person won’t be buried alive. But also think of the kind of revelry at most wakes, the celebration of life side-by-side with death. That kind of wake is here, too.

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