Engl 271_The Waking Essay - Engl 271 Analysis of Roethkes...

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Engl 271 Analysis of Roethke’s “The Waking” In Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking,” refrain adds a musicality and rhythm to the verses. However, the repeated lines function as far more than a simple moment of nonsense and respite from the forward momentum of the poem by mirroring the speaker’s changing psychology and state of mind. Written in villanelle form, the first and third lines of the first stanza are rhyming refrains. These two lines alternate as the third line in the next four stanzas. At the final stanza, they close the poem as a couplet. The two refrains always reiterate their literal purpose: to find direction by indirection. Ironically enough, the refrains themselves are like lost tour guides leading us through the forest of the poem. While they retain their identity, at each stanza they change course and reveal myriad new pathways into the poem, as if they indeed are learning “by going where [they] have to go” (3). At the first line of the poem, the refrain “I wake to sleep” (1) allows “The Waking” itself to arise and greet the reader. However, from the very start, the poem takes its time, just like a person grudgingly woken from peaceful sleep. The line pauses from the action with a mid-line caesura followed by an expression of its desire to take its “waking slow” (1). The expectation of forward momentum typically associated with the exposition of a poem and reinforced by the aggressive declarative “I wake” is suddenly broken. Hardly has the poem begun, and the refrain already needs to stylistically “rest” and contemplate. It is as if the poem fears beginning. The refrain’s reluctance echoes the speaker’s fear of starting a daunting and mysterious journey towards his fate. Indeed, the second line of the refrain is in the form of a direct, declarative sentence, implying that narrator and poem are reluctant but obliged to move forward though both would prefer to loll about in bed in half-slumber. To sustain the poem and to sustain the
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Engl 271_The Waking Essay - Engl 271 Analysis of Roethkes...

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