Poetry Friday: I take my waking slow

h1 December 5th, 2008 by eisha

*yawn*Here’s the thing about insomnia: it doesn’t just make you tired. It shades everything with a hint of the surreal. After enough nights of lying there watching the hours blink by on the alarm clock, the boundaries between awake and asleep get blurry. I’ll glance at the time on the computer screen at work and realize I have no idea what I’ve been doing for the past hour. I’ll be reading on the couch and doze off, continuing the story in a dream, then wake up and wonder why the story I’m reading doesn’t make sense anymore. I feel a little like Billy Pilgrim, like I’ve come unstuck in time.

I don’t mean to whine – I know my circadian rhythm will settle down eventually. This is just one of those things I’m prone to. Sometimes I get bouts of insomnia when I’m worried or excited about something, and I can’t get my brain to shut up long enough for me to fall asleep. Sometimes it seems to happen for no reason at all. But I think this time it was set off by crossing the international date line a couple of times within a week – my sleep cycle was totally messed up, and I haven’t managed to get it back on track yet. But it’ll pass.

Lines from this poem (a villanelle, one of my favorite forms) keep drifting around behind my eyes. I love it, not just for the irresistible rhythm, but for the dreamy, synesthesia-like atmosphere created by linking all those incongruous sensations. Here’s “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke:

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.

Click here to read the rest. And then head on over to Mommy’s Favorite Children’s Books, where Karen is handling this week’s Poetry Friday roundup.

9 comments to “Poetry Friday: I take my waking slow”

  1. I agree that the villanelle is the perfect vehicle for his subject. The repetitive structure paired with groping attempts at images makes it read like he’s trying to fit his rhythms to the day’s, but he can’t quite yet.

    I have to say that “I learn by going where I have to go” is a lesson it took me a very, very long time to learn.

  2. Love Roethke. “I hear my being dance from ear to ear.” uh-huh.

    Insomnia and I are old, forever friends, and my nickname is Zombie. Hope you get some peaceful sleep soon!

  3. Agree with you, eisha, about the villanelle form. It’s almost hypnotically metronomic. (And it’s also devilishly hard to write a good villanelle, given how simple it seems.)

    Great choice for the day — and I hope it turns out to be prophetic for your nighttimes soon!

  4. That insomnia doesn’t sound fun, Eisha. I hope it clears soon. I know when I’m jet-lagged I get this thing where nothing seems quite real – like my vision is off-kilter. Good luck!

  5. “so take the lively air,
    And, lovely, learn by going where to go.”


    Get rest, e. And dream sweet dreams. Dream of more chicken art.

  6. Oh, this is one of my favorite poems.

    It seems like the not-sleeping thing is just part of being no longer eighteen? Or something? I don’t know. But this measured, swinging metronome of a poem makes me feel …peaceful about the whole thing. Hope the glaze-and-haze feeling clears soon.

  7. Thanks, ya’ll. I’m glad you love the poem too. And sorry I’m not the only one afflicted by the occasional sleep drought.

  8. Oh man, I’ve been afflicted by the insomnia bug lately too! Too much to do and my body is dragging but my brain is on overdrive! Hope it goes away soon!

  9. Very nice pattern and great articles , practically nothing else we want : D.

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