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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” here along with the analysis.
Analysis of The Awakening by James Weldon Johnson


“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.

Structure & Form

“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

Johnson uses the following poetic devices in this poem.

  • 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 One

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.

Stanza Two

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.

Historical Context

“The Awakening” is written by the 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.


What is the poem “The Awakening” about?

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.

What is the meaning of “The Awakening”?

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.

When was the poem “The Awakening” written?

James Weldon Johnson’s poem “The Awakening” was written during the 20th century.

Who is the speaker of the poem?

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.

What type of poem is “The Awakening”?

“The Awakening” is a lyric written on spirituality. It consists of two sections each having a set rhyme scheme and meter.

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