“My Papa’s Waltz” Essay

1572 Words Oct 15th, 2011 7 Pages
For readers, it is always controversial to determine what Theodore Roethke’s poem “My Papa’s Waltz” conveys. Readers either interpret the poem as telling the happy memory of a little boy playing with his father or as describing a scene of child abuse. From my point of view, the poem is more likely to be about the enjoyable time between the father and the son and I would explain this by discussing on the word choice, tone and rhythm of the poem.

Before analyzing, the first thing to look at is the background of the poet, Theodore Roethke. Roethke’s father died of cancer when he was fifteen (Wikipedia). It is then assumable that the waltz of Roethke and his father is one of the few memories involving his father as he passed away so early.
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What is described in the poem is how and what the boy feels. In the poem, the boy has to hang on like death to dance with his father. What should be

considered here is the height difference between the father and the boy. Being a little boy, he may be only at the height of his father’s wrist. If the father is drunk, he might not be so aware of his son’s feeling while dancing with him but just want to have fun. Hence, he might not slower his dancing pace or bend down a bit letting his son follow his steps. The word “hung” suggests the possibility that the boy was hung from the floor in his father’s arms because of their height difference. This is the reason why the son had to hang on like death, grapping his father’s arm tightly in order not to fall, and at the same time thought that was not an easy dance as he might not even be able to tiptoe.

Furthermore, the word “death” in the first stanza should be highlighted. “Death” suggests a contrast tone to the believed merry and playful dance. As mentioned before, Roethke’s father died when Roethke was at a young age. The word “death” strongly indicates the absence of Roethke’s father when he wrote the poem, conveying that the poet might have a bittersweet feeling while writing. In no way could Roethke see his father with his bare eyes again but only from the virtual images, which he cherishes, in his brain. Therefore, the word “death” is not stating that the interaction

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