The poem is divided into six even stanzas. These contain four lines and are very regular in length and rhyme scheme. The poem is also written in very simple, easy-to-read language. This means that most readers will be able to interpret the poet’s meaning. There is one key element that readers will need to interpret from the text alone—where the poet or speaker gets his determination from. Is it because of a specific religion that the poet feels so strongly about his fate? Or is it something else?
Waiting John BurroughsSerene, I fold my hands and wait,Nor care for wind, nor tide, nor sea;I rave no more 'gainst time or fate,For lo! my own shall come to me.I stay my haste, I make delays,For what avails this eager pace?I stand amid the eternal ways,And what is mine shall know my face.Asleep, awake, by night or day,The friends I seek are seeking me;No wind can drive my bark astray,Nor change the tide of destiny.What matter if I stand alone?I wait with joy the coming years;My heart shall reap where it hath sown,And garner up its fruit of tears.The waters know their own and drawThe brook that springs in yonder height;So flows the good with equal lawUnto the soul of pure delight.The stars come nightly to the sky;The tidal wave unto the sea;Nor time, nor space, nor deep, nor high,Can keep my own away from me.
‘Waiting’ by John Burroughs is a powerful poem that asserts a speaker’s opinion about fate.
The poem begins with the speaker declaring that he’s no longer going to fight his fate. He’s going to sit back and wait for it to come to him. He knows, as he repeats throughout the entire poem, that there is nothing he can do to change the future. He should just accept it and know that good things are coming. He’s lived a good life, he implies, and will therefore be rewarded.
Structure and Form
‘Waiting’ by John Burroughs is a six-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. Some of the rhymes are better than others. For example, “sea” and “me” is perfect, while “me” and “destiny” is slightly more forced because of the number of syllables.
Throughout this poem, the poet uses a few literary devices. These include:
- Personification: is seen when the poet describes the water with these lines “The waters know their own and draw / The brook that springs in yonder height.”
- Parallelism: the use of the same line structure. For example, “I stay my haste, I make delays.”
- Repetition: the use of the same literary device more than once. For example, the poet’s returns to images of fate and the future.
Serene, I fold my hands and wait,
Nor care for wind, nor tide, nor sea;
I rave no more ‘gainst time or fate,
For, lo! my own shall come to me.
In the first stanza of ‘Waiting,’ the speaker begins by stating that he has decided to put away his anger and passion. He’s “Serene” now and is willing to “wait” for what comes to him. He’s giving in to fate and time, no longer willing to fight against what might be in his future. He mentions the “wind,” “tide,” and “sea,” all-powerful forces that are often featured in poetry and seen as things to resist or fight against (for example, the saying “swim against the tide”).
I stay my haste, I make delays,
For what avails this eager pace?
I stand amid the eternal ways,
And what is mine shall know my face.
The second stanza uses repetition to emphasize the speaker’s new determination not to rush his life. He’s going to “stay” his “haste,” or previous desire to move quickly from place to place and event to event. Instead, he is going to wait and find out, as he would anyway, what his fate is going to be. His fate is something unchangeable, he knows, so it’s better that he just let it happen than spend useless energy resisting it.
Asleep, awake, by night or day,
The friends I seek are seeking me;
No wind can drive my bark astray,
Nor change the tide of destiny.
The third stanza provides slightly more context to what is driving this speaker’s change of personality. He knows that his “friends,” at least those he wants or is seeking, are “seeking” him. They are on paths toward one another, so he might as well ride it out.
There is “No wind” that can blow him from his path, nor is there a “change of tide” that can ruin his destiny, whatever that may be. It’s interesting to consider whether this speaker’s assertions about his future are more based on a genuine disregard for what happens to him or, more likely, faith in religion.
What matter if I stand alone?
I wait with joy the coming years;
My heart shall reap where it hath sown,
And garner up its fruit of tears.
The speaker knows that it doesn’t matter if he’s alone or with another person. His soul is going to end up where it’s supposed to be, no matter what he does or who he is with. With unwavering determination, the speaker knows there is happiness in his future. He will “reap” the rewards of what he’s done, or not done, in life, no matter what.
Stanzas Five and Six
The waters know their own and draw
The brook that springs in yonder height;
So flows the good with equal law
Unto the soul of pure delight.
The stars come nightly to the sky;
The tidal wave unto the sea;
Nor time, nor space, nor deep, nor high,
Can keep my own away from me.
In the following stanza, the speaker uses personification to describe what the “waters know.” The good knows the good, and the water knows the water, the speaker is implying. He knows that good is in his future because he’s lived a good life. That is the way the world works; he is determined to believe.
He ends the poem by saying that stars come out at night regularly in the same way that the tides come in from the sea. It is with this same certainty that the speaker knows that a specific, good fate is coming for him.
The main theme of ‘Waiting’ is fate. The speaker knows that his fate is predetermined, whether through an unshakeable faith in a specific religion or some other reason.
‘Waiting’ is about a speaker’s decision to accept his fate as it plays out rather than “rave” against the tide, wind, and sea. He knows that nothing he can do will change his fate, so he might as well accept it.
The message of ‘Waiting’ is that one should embrace their fate, perhaps a belief instilled through religion, and refrain from fighting against that which they can’t control.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Fate‘ by Ralph Waldo Emerson – a poem that describes the nature of fate and how the poet thinks of it.
- ‘Fate‘ by Carolyn Wells – speaks about love as something that transcends differences and distance.
- ‘The Definition of Love‘ by Andrew Marvell – presents the account of the lovelorn poet and his definition of love.