Theodore Roethke – The Waking

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Theodore Roethke
Theodore Roethke

Michigander Theodore Roethke passed away of a heart attack on nearby on Bainbridge Island, WA in the swimming pool of a friend. The pool was later filled and converted to a zen garden, and can be visted today at the Bloedel Reserve.

In my reading The Waking visits not exclusively Taoist themes of Way-going, life best-lived in the moment, and unattachment. There is a Germanic conviction of fate inherent in his word choices, but he does not dread what lies ahead. Rather he identifies what he should dread and relies on it to guide him, the implication being one of the very sort of courage that summons one out of the comfort of life in a rut and propels them on their Way.

The Waking

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

– Theodore Roethke (1953)

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