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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"The Waking" is a villanelle poem, which means that as well as consisting of 19 lines, it has a circular structure built around its use of refrains and its subject matter. In this instance, the subject matter is the circularity of waking and sleeping. Some people state that the waking and sleeping in the poem is a metaphor for life and death.

To summarize the poem properly, we should look at it one stanza at a time. The first stanza is

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.

In this part of the poem, the poet is writing about waking up in a state where dreams and reality merge. It is a place where he loses the fear of what is going to happen and where he is going to go.

The second stanza is

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.

Here the poet talks about embracing life, asking the rhetorical questio,n "what is it that we really need to know?" Personally, he says all he needs to be is happy.

The third stanza is

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.

In this stanza, the poet seems to be acknowledging that there are other people he has to respect. Since he doesn't approach these people, but walks softly by them, he is suggesting we all need the space to answer our own questions.

The fourth stanza is

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.

The fourth stanza has its first real image of life and death. The light taking the tree represents life, and the worm climbing the stairs represents death.

The fifth stanza is

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

In the fifth stanza the poet states that we, "you and me," have to trust nature and let it take us where it has to take us. Even if it means death, we have to trust that we won't rot away but as the previous stanza states be climbing up a "winding stair."

The sixth stanza is

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.

In the final stanza, the poet seems to be coming back to some sort of reality. When he says the two refrains at the end, he suddenly sounds like that he is trying to convince himself of their truth.

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