“The Waking” by Theodore Roethke (Favorite Poem Project)


(calming music plays) My name
is Tom Moran, and I’m the
head custodian at O’Neill Middle School
in Downers Grove. Usually I get here
a little before 7. If it snows,
5, 6 o’clock. I open up the doors,
turn the lights on, and basically
make the rounds. Turn exhaust
fans on, make sure the
boilers are on, and especially in
the wintertime. Job is basically taking
care of the building, taking care of
people within it. Making sure it’s a good,
clean, safe environment so the kids can learn
and teachers can teach. (students chat)
(school bell rings) “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. / 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. / It’s a very
positive poem. It’s very
life-affirming. (school bell rings) I always like the
lyrical aspects of it, and the way the
words just fit together, and it just flows so
easily and so melodically. And it has such a
powerful resonance. It just, it stuck to me ever since I was
in high school, I believe. And it’s just basically:
get up and get doing. You go through
some hard times, you go through
some sad times, you know,
it’s struggling. But there’s this
kind of, almost a reward that you get out
of this poem by saying, “Yeah, it’s hard, but you learn where
you’re gonna go by going.” I guess the biggest thing was when
I had to drop out of college. We just ran out of
money and I was like, “Go get a job.” I gotta hustle a buck,
I gotta pay the rent, that type of thing. And it’s just a matter of,
like, tomorrow, you know, things are going to get better. I mean, you always have to believe
in tomorrow’s gonna be better. I start setting up for
lunch about 10:15, 10:30. We have 4 lunches
here with 465 kids, so it’s pretty
much go, go, go. You really have to
manage your time well here, because there’s only so
much time to do so much. And you dedicate
that to do that. But then when something
else happens, you have to be very
thorough to get that done because you’ve got
to get back on schedule. Third come and
water or not, you ready or not ready or not,
here they come. (students chatting) (school bell rings) Every 20 minutes, they switch periods,
and they come out, and the kids
come in. -(groaning) Jeez Louise. Yeah, I was outta work for awhile
and things like that, but you’ll
notice, like, when you have different
times different aspects, you can always go
back to poetry. And it’s like a mile
marker around the road. When you’re out of work,
you don’t know how the bills are
going to get paid. You know, it’s, how we
get through last week, I don’t know how we’re going to
get through with this week, I don’t know but, I learned
by going where I have to go. I’ve been doing about a year
and a half of it in the district, this is going on
my sixth year. So this is the fourth
building I’ve been in, and it’s the third that I’ve
been in as a custodian part-time. Work my way up, and now
I got my own building. -Alright, today’s Friday, so Shane, take down
the flag tonight. Lock all the doors, the
locker rooms, the lounge, everything… Lock the small gym, and make
sure the breezeway is locked, so that nobody goes
through the large gym and into the
breezeway. (Voiceover) It’s a good place to work,
people are really good, it’s a great environment,
especially for poetry. The background is really
pushing the kids for reading and how
important reading is. I did a couple of
poetry workshops for kids over at the
first school I was at, and their imagination
is just tremendous. And I’m like, “This is something you kids can do
yourself. You have the power of creation within you.” They got so much
energy and everything, it’s like wow. There’s just this
exuberance of life, you know, and it’s just
like they just don’t know about. You know. You know, mortgage and bills and
everything and like that. It kind of rubs off on you
as far as like, you know, just get moving,
get doing, you know. You should
read a poem like you feel like you’re getting
lifted off the ground. It’s like wind blowing
through your soul. 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.

2 thoughts on ““The Waking” by Theodore Roethke (Favorite Poem Project)

  1. To janitors and poetry~
    I've been one for several years. Can't tell ya how many poems I've read!
    Thanks for the share.

  2. Poetry is a strong hand on your shoulder…….remember it is there all the time! Enjoyed seeing your day!

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