“The Waking” by Theodore Roethke

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, “The Waking” from Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke. Copyright 1953 by Theodore Roethke. Reprinted with the permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke (Doubleday, 1961)



1 King Hezekiah, hearing this, did tear

His clothes and put on sackcloth and went into

God’s temple, 2 and he sent Eliakim

The palace manager, the secretary,

Shebna, and leading priests, all wearing sackcloth,

To see the prophet, Amoz’ son, Isaiah.

3 They told him, “Hezekiah says: ‘This day’s

A day of desolation and rebuke

And discredit, as when the children come

To the birth moment and there is no strength

To bear them. 4 It may be the LORD your God

Will hear the comments of the field commander,

He whom his overlord, Assyria’s king,

Has sent to ridicule the living God,

And that he will rebuke him for the words

The LORD your God has heard, so pray, pray for

The remnant that survives.'” 5 King Hezekiah’s

Officials came up to Isaiah, 6 who

Said to them, “Tell your master, ‘The LORD says:

Do not be scared of what you’ve heard, those words

With which the lackeys of Assyria’s king

Have blasphemed me. 7 Now listen! When he hears

A certain dispatch, I will make him want

To go back to his country, where I’ll have

Him cut down with the sword.'” 8 The field commander

Heard that Assyria’s king had gone from Lachish,

So he withdrew and found the king in battle

With Libnah. 9 Now Sennacherib received

A dispatch saying that Tirhakah, the king

Of Cush, was marching out to fight against him.

So he sent messengers to Hezekiah

Once more with this word: 10 “Say to Hezekiah

The king of Judah: ‘Do not let the god

You count on double-cross you when he says,  

“Jerusalem will not be handed to      

Assyria’s king,” 11 for surely you’ve heard what

Assyria’s kings have done to all the lands,

Destroying them completely. And will you

Be saved? 12 Did gods of nations ruined by

My predecessors save them–gods of Gozan,

Harran, Rezeph and Eden’s people who

Were in Tel Assar? 13 Where’s the king of Hamath

Of Arpad’s king? Where are the kings of Lair

And Sepharvaim, Henam, Ivvah?’” 14 Now

Hezekiah did take the letter from

The messengers and read it, then he went

Up to the temple of the LORD and spread

It out before the LORD, 15 and Hezekiah

Did pray: “O LORD, the God of  Israel,

Enthroned between the cherubim, you, you

Alone are God above all earthly kingdoms.

You’ve made the earth and heaven. 16 Lend your ear,  

O LORD, and hear; and open up your eyes,

O LORD, and see; and listen to the words

Sennacherib has sent to ridicule

The living God. 17 AIt is true, LORD, the kings

Out of Assyria have laid waste all

These nations and their lands; 18 they’ve thrown their gods

Into the fire and so destroyed them, for

They were not gods but only wood and stone,

Fashioned by human hands. 19 Now, LORD our God,

Rescue us from his hand, so that the kingdoms

Of earth may know that you alone, O LORD,

Are God.” 20-21 Isaiah son of Amoz sent

A message out to Hezekiah: “This

Is what the LORD, the God of Israel,

Says: I have heard your prayer about Assyria’s

King Sennacherib, and the LORD has spoken          

Against him, saying: “Virgin Daughter Zion

Despises you and mocks you. Jerusalem

The Daughter shakes her head as you run off.

22 Who is it you have ridiculed and blasphemed?

Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted

Your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One

Of Israel! 23 By your own messengers

You’ve ridiculed the Lord. And you have said,

“With my array of chariots I have

Ascended mountain heights, the utmost heights

Of Lebanon. Its tallest cedars, choices

Of its own junipers, I have cut down.

I have reached its remotest parts, the finest

Of all its forests, 24 and in foreign lands

I have dug wells and drunk the water there.

With soles of my own feet I have dried up

All Egypt’s streams; 25 have you not heard? For long

Ago I did ordain it, and in days

Of old I planned it; now I’ve made it happen,

That you’ve turned cities fortified to rubble.

26 Their people, power-drained, are disconcerted

And put to shame. They are like plants in fields.

Like the green tender shoots, like grass that sprouts

Upon the roof that’s scorched before it grows,

27 But I know where you are and when you come

And go and how you rage against me. 28 As

You rage against me and your insolence

Has reached my ears, I’ll put my hook within

Your nose and put my bit inside your mouth,  

And I will make you go back by the way

You came,’” 29 and this will be the sign for you,

Hezekiah: “This year you will eat what

Grows by itself, and in the second year

What springs from that, but in the third year sow

And reap, plant vineyards, eat their fruit. 30 Once more

A part of Judah’s kingdom will take root

Below and bear some fruit above, 31 for from

Jerusalem will come a remnant, and

Out of Mount Zion a surviving group.

The zeal of the Almighty LORD will make

This happen, and 32 this is what the LORD

Does say about Assyria’s king:  “He will

Not go inside this city and he will

Not shoot an arrow here. He will not build

Up a siege ramp against it, nor will he

Come in front of it with a shield; 33 the way

He came, that way he will return; he won’t

Go in this city, says the LORD. 34 I will

Defend this city and he’ll save it, for

My sake and David’s sake, for he’s my servant.'”

35 That night the angel of the LORD went out

And put to death a hundred eighty‑five

Thousand in the Assyrian camp. When people

Rose the next morning–there were the dead bodies! 

36 Sennacherib, Assyria’s king, broke camp,

Left, and returned to Nineveh and there

He stayed 37 until one day, while he was in

The temple worshiping his own god Nisrok,

The destruction of Sennacherib and his army by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

His sons Adrammelek and Sharezer

Stabbed him to death with swords, and they escaped

To Ararat like hoodlums on the wing

And his son Esarhaddon was next king.