Robert Bly

Waking from Sleep by Robert Bly

Robert Bly’s ‘Waking from Sleep’ is a symbolic poem about the awakening from the deep slumber of ignorance and thralldom. It evokes the imagery of a “harbor at dawn” in order to present this theme.

‘Waking from Sleep’ appears in the first collection of Robert Bly, Silence in the Snowy Fields, published in 1962. In this poem, Bly depicts how the body rises after sleeping throughout the long winter. Bly uses vivid imagery and uses metaphors to explore the topic of revelation, awakening, and freedom. His main idea revolves around a person’s thralldom to his senses. When he rises above the chains that hold him back, his body turns into a joyous harbor ignited by the first stroke of sunlight.

Waking from Sleep by Robert Bly


‘Waking from Sleep’ by Robert Bly describes the reaction after waking up after a metaphorically prolonged sleep.

The title of the poem hints at a commonplace idea of waking up. But, it delves into some deeper topics. Bly depicts how it feels when the body stirs with the first urge to wake up in the first few lines. He uses the metaphor of fleets destined for a harbor to depict how the body becomes conscious just before rising. It has been in an idle state throughout a long winter. When the metaphorical winter paves the way for the spring, the body becomes a harbor at dawn. Each organ dances as if the master is absent from the scene.

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-6

Inside the veins there are navies setting forth,


Of stiff dogs, and hands that clumsily held heavy books.

The first tercet of ‘Waking from Sleep’ describes what happens inside a speaker’s body when he is about to wake up. Bly compares the blood rushing inside the veins to a sea where “navies” setting forth. Here, “navies” hints at the impulse sent by the brain to different parts of the body. Like the rushing fleets destined for the harbor, the brain sends neural responses to each part of the body.

Bly describes how the water rushes at the shores. It seems “tiny explosions” occur at the waterlines. This image deals with how quickly the body responds to wakefulness. The pace is signaled by the reference to “explosions.” Furthermore, the speaker describes how the seagulls weave in the wind at dawn. Here, the gulls fly over the “wind of the salty blood.”

In the following stanza, the poet describes how the country sleeps throughout the whole winter. The inactive state of the body (referred to as “the country”) while sleeping is portrayed in this stanza. Here, Bly resorts to some familiar images seen in any household during winter. He describes how the seats by the window are covered with fur skins, the yard full of immobile sleeping dogs, and the clumsy hands, trembling while holding bulky books.

Lines 7-12

Now we wake, and rise from bed, and eat breakfast!


We know that our master has left us for the day.

In the following lines of ‘Waking from Sleep,’ the speaker uses a collective perspective in order to describe how people rise up in the morning. They eat breakfast after waking. This scene is further compared to the scene of a harbor in the early morning. The crew shouts after reaching the shores at dawn. Their cheerful voice echoes through the Harbor. This image infuses life and vitality into the lines.

In the morning, “mist and masts” rise at the same time. The speaker can hear the knocking sounds from the wooden tackle. In this way, Bly compares a speaker’s initial reactions after waking up from sleek to the happenings at a dock in the morning.

The last tercet opens with how the speaker sings and dances on the kitchen floor. Bly finds a similarity between the joy of the sailors in a “harbor at dawn” and that of the awakened speaker. The boundless happiness of the crew after reaching the shore can be felt inside the body after waking up.


Bly wrote ‘Waking from Sleep’ in free-verse. There is no particular rhyme scheme or meter. The text is written in tercet form. It consists of a total of four tercets. Each section contains a complete idea. Bly masterfully connects each section and depicts the gradual awakening of the body after a long slumber. Apart from that, the poem is told from the perspective of a first-person speaker. The speaker talks from a collective point of view using the pronoun “we.”

Literary Devices

Bly makes use of the following literary devices in his poem ‘Waking from Sleep’.

  • Enjambment: Bly uses this device in the last two lines of the second stanza. It makes readers go through the lines at a time.
  • Alliteration: It occurs in “whole winter,” “held heavy,” “we wake,” etc.
  • Metaphor: This poem is filled with a number of metaphors. For instance, the “navies” in the first line is a hint at the impulse from the brain.
  • Simile: It occurs in “Our whole body is like a harbor at dawn.”
  • Imagery: Bly uses kinesthetic imagery in the very first line to depict the movement of navies across the veins. The second line contains auditory imagery, and the next one depicts a visual image.


What is the poem ‘Waking from Sleep’ about?

Robert Bly’s poem ‘Waking from Sleep’ is a metaphorical poem about the happenings inside the human body after waking up from sleep. Bly uses several images in order to describe how the bodily changes.

When was ‘Waking from Sleep’ published?

The poem appears in Robert Bly’s first collection of poetry, Silence in the Snowy Fields. It was published in 1962.

What is the theme of ‘Waking from Sleep’?

This piece taps on a number of themes that include sleep, waking up, the human body, and change. The main idea of the poem concerns how a speaker feels at a spiritual level after waking up from a sleep of ignorance, subjugation, and immobility.

What type of poem is ‘Waking from Sleep’?

It is a free-verse lyric poem that consists of four tercets. There is no specific rhyme scheme or meter in the text. It is written from the first-person point of view.

Similar Poems

Here is a list of a few poems that are similar to Robert Bly’s poem ‘Waking from Sleep’.

You can also explore these refreshing poems about the morning.

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A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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