The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Wake Up” is a narrative poem divided into six sections. Most of the poem is narrative, but in section 5, the poet records a brief dialogue between the speaker and his female companion. The setting of the poem, Kyborg Castle, in Zurich, Switzerland, provides an occasion for the two speakers to contemplate human suffering and death.

The first section of the poem introduces the spatial setting: the dungeon of a medieval castle. There the speakers observe an executioner’s block, which sits near an iron maiden, one of a number of instruments of torture used in the Middle Ages, which was, curiously enough, in the shape of a female. Also in the dungeon is a rack, used for stretching criminals. The poet notes that at times the torturer would have to awaken his charges by throwing water over them. This was done so that the prisoner would feel the effects of the torture to the utmost.

In contrast to the images of torture is “an old cherrywood crucifix,” which hangs on the wall in the chamber’s corner. Section 3 questions the suitability of the image of crucifixion in a room noted for punishment. Moving almost to the level of sarcasm, the poet suggests that the “criminal” would, almost at the point of death, possibly receive religious conversion. This section hints at the horrible punishments often associated with the Inquisition, which claimed to be acting with God’s inspiration.

At this point, the poet begins to move...

(The entire section is 589 words.)