Analysis Of Theodore Roethke 's ' The Waking '

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Though Theodore Roethke firmly lived his life in the modernist age, his works strongly echo the transcendentalist way of writing comparable to Waldo or Emerson; however, he personalized this form of writing through his own personal experiences. The foundations of his style of writing have strong origins in his childhood, where his family’s naturalistic lifestyle inspired him and where he developed a deep connection to the natural world through the greenhouses that his family managed. Due to this, one will almost always see the use of natural imagery in his writing to express more complex ideas. As one would expect, his poem “The Waking” is no exception. In this work, Roethke uses the interaction between the speaker and the natural world in order to embody the progression of cognitive awareness throughout the span of a single human life and to depict how one understands such knowledge through the senses, experience, and thought.
Roethke opens the poem with the seemingly oxymoronic line “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow” (1). At first, one may wonder, how does one wake-up to fall asleep? For these are naturally opposing ideas; however, here Roethke is not using literal definitions. Through the word “wake,” he is more likely referencing birth and the eventual enlightenment that one gains through life. Conversely, “sleep” represents death and, thus, the ceasing of intellectual gain. So, the first part of the line implies a dual meaning. Simply, the speaker is born only

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