Things I have been thinking about lately:

  • how to work with fear without being submerged in it
  • how to play with anxiety (ridicule?)
  • how to investigate personal experiences in a way that will be of common interest
  • how to explore personal life without compromising others
  • how to equalize science & art (amalgamate?)


I’m reading to learn, spying on the clever ones:


The Waking

THEODORE ROETHKEThe Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke (Doubleday, 1961)

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.

I learn by going where I have to go.


We think by feeling. What is there to know?

I hear my being dance from ear to ear.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.


Of those so close beside me, which are you?

God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,

And learn by going where I have to go.


Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?

The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.


Great Nature has another thing to do

To you and me; so take the lively air,

And, lovely, learn by going where to go.


This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.

What falls away is always. And is near.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

I learn by going where I have to go.


For a very thorough analyses, see: On Roethke’s “The Waking” by Susan Pinkus

here is an excerpt:

Waking to sleep, and learning by going where you have to go are both paradoxes. A paradox is a statement containing two diametrically opposite ideas, such as sleeping and waking, that ultimately join together in one meaning. The effect is circular, like traveling east as far as you can go to reach the west. Because the poem is built on a series of paradoxes, the meaning of the poem becomes as circular as its sound pattern. The effect of a circular form and a circular content adds to the mystical nature of the poem. The circle is the ultimate mystery of our lives. As the poem develops, however, the meaning of the paradoxes becomes clear. (…)


The first verse establishes the central paradox: “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.” The precise meaning, at this point, is not clear. The next line, “I feel my fate in what I cannot fear,” is another paradox. Normally, we fear fate because it is unknown, because it cannot be felt or anticipated. By feeling fate rather than fearing it, you accept it rather than resist it. The last line of the tercet unifies the stanza’s meaning. (…)


The second stanza rejects the intellect as the road to enlightenment. To “think by feeling” is another paradox. The poem asks, “What is there to know?” The implied answer is that there is nothing “to know.” Life can only be felt. From here it is one short step into ecstasy: “I hear my being dance from ear to ear.” The fusion of the senses of sight and sound and the sensation of one’s being throbbing to the rhythm of life dissolves into the repetition of the first line of the poem. This time there is no ambiguity in the meaning of this line. Waking to sleep is to dissolve into the trance. We are a part of the visionary experience. (…)


The first line of the final stanza unifies the entire poem. Within the paradox of keeping steady by shaking, we find an explanation of the seemingly opposed forces of life and death. The “shaking” is both the fear of accepting mortality and the ecstasy of absolute openness to experience. The point where fear and ecstasy meet, where logic becomes vision, where death changes to life, is the point on which we must balance.


We are still somehow removed from the effect of Roethke’s poem. We must return to the harmony of its form and content. Ultimately, we perceive the poem as we would a piece of music, not in its themes and philosophy, but in the blending of sound, tone, movement, and recurring motifs. When we join this to the metaphor, we sense something of the beauty and complexity of Roethke’s poem. It is as vibrant and fragile and mysterious as the circle of our lives–birth and decay, life and death–that inspired this poem. 


9 Comments Add yours

  1. KM Huber says:

    Thanks for letting us “spy” with you.

    1. Sigrun says:

      My pleasure!

  2. Harold Rhenisch says:

    Here’s what Dick Hugo, Roethke’s student (and a finer poet) wrote just before he died, taking off from Roethke’s poem “The Waking” (Thanks for posting; I hadn’t connected the dots before):

    One of the great ones. Make sure you read it out loud!



    1. Sigrun says:

      … Here lies one who believed all others his betters.
      I didn’t really, but what a fun thing to say. …

  3. Beth says:

    Very good (and challenging) things to think about.

  4. The Poetry is marvelous…But the way your words guide the reader without him loosing interest till the end is a fine art indeed

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you, the words leading us belongs to Susan Pinkus, she has really been a great guide through this poem.

  5. Regarding the things you have been thinking about,While studying Medicine i developed a special bond with Cardiology and Psychiatry,and in Psychology what you are referring to is termed as Behaviour Analysis,and i happen to love that field of Medicine,even completed an internship program in it,May be i can give you a few pointers to help you in dealing with people in your day to day life,you know where to find me if you are interested.

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