The Awakening by James Weldon Johnson
James Weldon Johnson’s “The Awakening” is an interesting piece concerning a rose awaiting for a metaphorical bee to drink it to the lees. This poem does not tap only on spiritualism but also hovers over a wide array of concepts concerning love, devotion, and fulfillment. It is on one hand a seeker’s longing for the divine. At the same time, it is a romantic poem showcasing the essence of spiritual love between two souls. Whatever the meaning can be, this piece does not let one’s thoughts halt at a single moment. Its simplicity is what makes the poem more complex.
- Read the full text of “The Awakening” below:
The Awakening by James Weldon Johnson I dreamed that I was a rose That grew beside a lonely way, Close by a path none ever chose, And there I lingered day by day. Beneath the sunshine and the show’r I grew and waited there apart, Gathering perfume hour by hour, And storing it within my heart, Yet, never knew, Just why I waited there and grew. I dreamed that you were a bee That one day gaily flew along, You came across the hedge to me, And sang a soft, love-burdened song. You brushed my petals with a kiss, I woke to gladness with a start, And yielded up to you in bliss The treasured fragrance of my heart; And then I knew That I had waited there for you.
“The Awakening” begins with a first-person speaker, representing a rose, describing how it grew beside a lonely way. It lingered at a path less traveled by. Day by day, it grew to fullness, gathering the perfume of creation, and treasuring it into its soft, blossomy heart. The rose never knew why it was there, growing steadily yet silently.
One day, it dreamt of a bee that merrily flew along the way. It flew across the hedge where the rose lingered long. The beauty of its humming song burdened with love fulfilled its heart. Then it brushed the rose’s petals with a kiss. It made the speaker so blissful that he yielded up its treasured fragrance to it. Finally, it realizes why it had been waiting so long for just that moment.
Form, Rhyme Scheme, & Meter
“The Awakening” is a lyric poem written in regular rhyme scheme and meter. It consists of two stanzas, each having ten lines. The rhyme scheme of each section is ABABCDCDEE. So, each stanza consists of two quatrains, ending with a rhyming couplet. Johnson uses the end-stopped lines in order to conclude the sense of each section.
There are eight syllables per line, except the ninth line that contains four syllables. The stress falls on the second syllable of each foot (unit of two syllables). It means the overall poem is written in the iambic tetrameter with an iambic dimeter variation. Let’s have a look at the scansion of the first four lines in order to understand the overall metrical scheme.
I dream/-ed that/ I was/ a rose
That grew/ be-side/ a lone/-ly way,
Close by/ a path/ none e/-ver chose,
And there/ I linger/-ed day/ by day.
Poetic Devices & Figurative Language
Johnson uses the following poetic devices in “The Awakening.”
- Personification: Johnson personifies the rose by comparing it himself. Besides, he invests humanly attributes to the bee in order to personify it.
- Metaphor: In “Gathering perfume hour by hour”, the poet uses a metaphor. Here, “perfume” is compared to love and devotion. He also uses metaphors in “love-burdened song” and “treasured fragrance of my heart”.
- Alliteration: It occurs in “day by day”, “hour by hour”, “sang a soft”, etc.
- Enjambment: The use of this device can be found in “I dreamed that I was a rose/ That grew beside a lonely way”. It also occurs in the following lines. Johnson uses this device to internally connect the lines.
Stanza-by-Stanza Analysis & Explanation
I dreamed that I was a rose
That grew beside a lonely way,
Close by a path none ever chose,
And there I lingered day by day.
Beneath the sunshine and the show’r
I grew and waited there apart,
Gathering perfume hour by hour,
And storing it within my heart,
Yet, never knew,
Just why I waited there and grew.
Johnson’s poem “The Awakening” is written as a short dream sequence. In the first stanza, the poet shares what he saw in the dream. While the next stanza contains his revelation. In this stanza, the poetic persona imagines himself as a rose that grew beside a lonely way. Here, the “rose” is a symbol of his soul, and the “lonely way” is a metaphorical reference to spirituality. People do not go on this path often. It can also be a path that the speaker personally preferred for his spiritual development.
The rose lingered there day after day not knowing the answer to what its purpose was. It grew and waited for the time to come when he would be able to find the answer. In the meantime, it gathered the essence of love, metaphorically referred to as “perfume”, in order to fill its heart. It can also be a reference to devotion. However, the speaker in a confused tone replies that he never knew just why he waited there beside the lonely path.
I dreamed that you were a bee
That one day gaily flew along,
You came across the hedge to me,
And sang a soft, love-burdened song.
You brushed my petals with a kiss,
I woke to gladness with a start,
And yielded up to you in bliss
The treasured fragrance of my heart;
And then I knew
That I had waited there for you.
In the second stanza, Johnson presents the following part of the dream containing the answer to his query. This time he dreamed of a bee. He writes, “I dreamed that you were a bee”. The identity of the person referred to as “you” is implicit. It can be a reference to God or to his soulmate. In both ways, his ideas make sense.
The bee gaily flew along and came across the hedge where the lonely spirit of the poet lingered. From his tone, it is clear that he was eagerly waiting for this moment. It sang a soft song. Johnson describes this song as “love-burdened”. God (or his soulmate) is the source of love. It seems to him as if he is burdened with love, always eager to share it among humankind.
He, in the form of a bee, brushed the speaker’s petals (a metaphorical reference to his senses) with a kiss. It made his soul start at one in gladness. The moment had come. It was the time to express his devotion to the almighty. So, the speaker yielded up the “treasured fragrance” of his heart to him in eternal bliss. Here, the poet compares devotion to the sweet fragrance of a rose.
The speaker was spiritually awakened in a state of perfect happiness. He understood why he had been waiting for so long. In this way, “The Awakening” explores the idea of spiritual revelation that comes after a long wait.
“The Awakening” is written by American poet James Weldon Johnson. Johnson was active during the Harlem Renaissance. He wrote several poems and spirituals of black culture. Johnson’s poem “The Awakening” was written in the 20th century. It explores the idea of spirituality by using metaphors of a rose and a bee. The simplicity of the poetic thoughts alongside its emotive language reveals the poet’s devotion to the almighty. He describes himself as a “rose” that filled itself with the “fragrance” of knowledge, love, and humanity throughout his lifetime.
Questions & Answers
This poem is all about a speaker’s dream. He dreamed that he was a rose that grew beside a lonely way. One day, God, in the form of a bee, came along to awaken his soul from its slumber of ignorance.
The title of the poem refers to an act of waking from sleep or becoming suddenly aware of something. In this piece, the poet describes how he was suddenly aware of his very existence by the appearance of God as a bee. So, the title implicitly hints at the poet’s spiritual revelation.
James Weldon Johnson’s poem “The Awakening” was written during the Harlem Renaissance, in the 20th century.
The speaker of this piece is the poet James Weldon Johnson himself. He speaks in this piece through his poetic persona presented as a rose.
“The Awakening” is a lyric written on spirituality. It consists of two sections each having a set rhyme scheme and meter.
Similar Poems about Spirituality
- “Light, oh where is the light?” by Rabindranath Tagore — This piece of Tagore explores one seeker’s longing for the divine light.
- “A child said, What is the grass?” by Walt Whitman — In this poem, Whitman describes the meaning of life by using the metaphor of the “grass”.
- “When my play was with thee” by Rabindranath Tagore — This poem taps on the themes of innocence and purity, proximity with God, and worldliness.
- A Short Biographical Sketch of James Weldon Johnson — Read this concise biography of the poet.
- About James Weldon Johnson — Learn more about the poet’s life.
- Poet Profile & Poems of James Weldon Johnson — Explore more about the poet and read his well-known poems.
I worry that you lean too heavily toward the God thing… the road next to the rose is serendipitous and speaks to mankind’s obliviousness to the loneliness of something so gorgeous, but the rose does its thing… until its love or whatever is meant to acknowledge or recognize it arrives. Why God? Please don’t limit possibilities by a religious (not spiritual) bias.