“The Waking” by Theodore Roethke summarizes his belief that true wisdom lies in instinct. The poem also tells of Roethke’s appreciation of learning as he lives and the acceptance of his looming death, according to NYU School of Medicine. The poem’s nineteen-line style, which repeats two rhymes, personifies the inevitability of the cycle of life and death. The poem's form also emphasizes how life is a continuous learning process.
Analysts consider “The Waking” to be one of Theodore Roethke’s greatest poems and also one that clearly states his belief in inner vision and instinct the most. The first stanza of “The Waking” contains the line repeated throughout the poem, “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.” The repeated line means that he wishes the reader to take it into utmost consideration. This line can firstly be read as Roethke awakens every day to go to sleep at the end of it, but a deeper meaning should be grasped by the reader by the end of the poem. Roethke also wishes to show the reader that he lives every day to one day meet his eternal sleep. As he takes “his waking slow,” he is telling the reader that he lives his life slowly. The first stanza also exemplifies his belief that true wisdom is gained in instinct, and learning is gained by living with the two lines: “I feel my fate in what I cannot fear” and “I learn by going where I have to go.”