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Rachel Tran
March 5, 2014
Poetry, an empowering piece of literature, has the ability to encompass concealed
elements which express one‟s feelings or ideas in a more meaningful way. By examining and
dissecting a poem in fragments, many hidden techniques representing significant ideas may
begin to emerge. Many poets, such as Theodore Roethke, tend to use these devices and
techniques of poetry that enhance their piece of literature. Roethke utilizes remarkable
techniques which transforming his love for nature into an illustration of his personal viewpoint of
life through his life experiences.
Theodore Roethke frequently expresses a wide variety of many emotions and thoughts
throughout his work due to his life events. In his poems, “The Waking” and “Night Journey”, he
expresses his love for nature while conveying his hidden meaning of life using the devices of
poetry. Roethke‟s “family owned the largest greenhouses in the state. He called his home “a
wonderful place for a child to grow up in and around”” (Roethke, Theodore). Growing up and
spending much time with his father‟s greenhouses was the cause of his affinity to nature, which
significantly affected his poetry later in life. Although he lived a happy childhood, Roethke‟s
later years were rough and difficult. “During Roethke‟s second year in high school, his father
died of cancer…as Roethke‟s mature poetry suggests, the loss had a deep and lasting effect on
him.” Charles Roethke, Theodore‟s uncle, committed suicide during this time as well. These
events negatively affected him as he became quieter and felt more isolated. Roethke also “lived
much of his adult life in the throes and cycles of manic depression for which he was periodically
hospitalized and on occasion given shock treatment” (Balakian, Peter). “…Roethke surely took it
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all into the nerve-endings, into the blood and pulse, into the rhythms of his giant body which
became the rhythms of his poetry" (Blessing, Richard). In the “Night Journey”, Roethke speaks
about the good and bad changes in life, and how we must come to accept them. He uses
symbolism to symbolize the speaker‟s journey through life and there is an irregular rhyme
scheme which represents a rugged journey through life. From the very first line in the poem,
“The Waking”, and through every line that follows, it is clear one has entered the mind of an
individual who has a complex inner life due to the complicated series of paradoxes and more.
Roethke utilizes techniques of poetry in “Night Journey” which express his viewpoint on
a person‟s journey through life. One of the most significant devices that he uses in this poem is
symbolization. The night journey isn‟t merely a train ride – the journey is a symbol for the
speaker‟s journey through life. The speaker uses the environment to extract and signify different
parts of life. For instance, the iron bridge represents all metaphorical bridges we build and cross
during our lives, the forest and mountain shrouded in mist represents the moments we lost our
way, and the bleak space represents all our wasted opportunities and regrets. The speaker has
experienced all the things seen in the journey in life which build up the speaker‟s final
conclusion: a love for his “land”. The poem‟s rhyme scheme is mainly irregular, but only one
section (lines 12-19) is regular. This implies that our lives can go smoothly but rough at times, as
well. The continuous iambic trimeter represents the train‟s rhythm that “rocks the earth” and the
rhythm of life. Other devices Roethke uses are alliteration, feminine rhymes, slant rhymes,
cacophonies, metaphors, personification and much more to convey his feelings and ideas. This
poem ties in together with his recurring love of nature that is seen throughout a wide array of his
poems.
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Roethke‟s “The Waking” is a poem that can be interpreted in any number of ways
depending on what frame of mind the reader is in at the time he or she reads Roethke‟s offering.
"In the later villanelle, Roethke seems to advocate an almost Zen approach to learning, as if
education is a natural part of life: "I learn by going where I have to go.” (Jack Turner) Roethke
uses the words sleep and wake as metaphors for death and life and advises the author to accept
the fact that life ends in death and to make the most of life by living in the moment. Jay Parini
perceives “The Waking” as evidence of the poet‟s "steady movement toward self-transcendence
on „the long journey out of self" (173). He also uses a tree as a metaphor for human life in the
villanelle because it emphasizes these values. The tree cannot fear its death, nor can it attempt to
avoid fate. This metaphor is further utilized in the line, “God bless the Ground! I shall walk
softly there”, because he teaches us that we need to respect our surroundings and others. (8)
Theodore Roethke incorporates the rhyme scheme to match the meaning of the villanelle as well.
The tercets are ABA, where the letter refers to the end rhyme of each line, while the quatrain is
ABAA. However, the A rhyme changes in lines 7 and 10. The rhyme is predictable, but shift as
the poem develops which represents and mirrors change in development in our lives. The iambic
pentameter is almost similar to footsteps that echo the speaker‟s trek forward.
It is simple to uncover many different interpretations of Roethke‟s meanings in his poems
when detecting techniques of poetry and his background information. Although Theodore
Roethke may have had a different intended meaning to each of his poems, one will never truly
know what he means and expresses unless one speaks to him in person. Our interpretations of the
poems come from using the clues like his background and the devices of poetry he utilizes to
understand his intended meanings.

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Works Cited
Balakian, Peter. Theodore Roethke's Far Fields: The Evolution of His Poetry. Baton Rouge:
Louisiana State University Press, 1989. Print.
Blessing, Richard A., “Theodore Roethke: A Celebration,” in Tulane Studies in English, Vol. 20,
1972, pp. 169–80.
"Roethke, Theodore." Gale Contextual Encyclopedia of American Literature. Vol. 4. Detroit:
Gale, 2009. 1385-1388. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 5 Mar. 2014.
"The Waking." Poetry for Students. Ed. Sara Constantakis. Vol. 34. Detroit: Gale, 2010. 293-
311. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
Turner, Jack. ""The Waking"." Bloom's Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 21 Feb. 2014

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