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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 302

"The Waking" by Theodore Roethke is a 19-line 5-stanza villanelle poem written mostly in iambic pentameter. It describes the process of entering another consciousness during sleep and continues to describe what sounds like the state of lucid dreaming.

The poem starts with the line.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

This line sounds like he is becoming conscious within a dreamlike state. When getting into the state, one has to become conscious slowly, or they will wake up from the dream.

In the next two lines he says

I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

These lines sounds like that in this dreamlike state, he is losing all fear, and doing and going places that allow him to learn more about himself. These are things he suggests he would not be brave enough to do while he is awake.

He begins the next three stanzas with questions about the meaning of life and why certain things happen.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?

Of those so close beside me, which are you?

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

By repeating lines such as "I learn by going where I have to go," he suggests that these questions don't need to be answered. They need to be experienced, and it is this experience that has the answers we are looking for.

In the second from last stanza he seems to say that we could never understand something as powerful as nature. We just have to accept it for what it is and let it take us on its journey.

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

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