My papa waltz Poem by Theodore Roethke Analysis
Posted on Sept. 18, 2021, 5:41 p.m.
“My papa waltz” a poem written by Theodore Roethke is a very influential poem that was written in the 1940s.
“My papa waltz” a poem written by Theodore Roethke is a very influential poem that was written in the 1940s. The poem was written to his father speaking about the child abuse he endured and all he wanted to do with him is to spend time. Theodore writes the poem in first person point of view as it was his childhood so in other words it’s a child speaking. The poem was written in remembrance of his father as he missed him. It takes place in the Us in a boy’s childhood home in the kitchen in which the child is being disobedient to parents. The central idea or them is directly related to alcoholism and child abuse. The tone given is one of playfulness in surprise to what is happening in the poem. The events that transpired in this poem is it starts off with a highly intoxicated father dancing with his son in the kitchen and in the process, they destroy the kitchen. The child then speaks about how he is beat with every step he missed. Towards the end he mentions dancing to the bed in which he is force by father. Some great word choice was found in the poem such as countenance a word very rarely used but one filled with description. The description of his father’s palm is one that paints a picture as he’s say “his palm is caked with dirt.”
A major metaphor can be found in this story about the father’s mistakes in real life speaking about him missing steps and hurting his son unintentionally by scraping him. Throughout the poem the child is contrasting his relationship with his father to a type of dance known as the waltz that is quite intimate but also very rambunctious. The dancing is a symbol of there relationship as it is back and forth the same way a dance is interpreted. The title directly related to the symbol of dancing as his dad is always in a kind of trance due to the liquor abuse he self-inflicts. The Pattern of the poem seems to be simple as it is analyzed as “ABAB” which also is a back and forth the same as they’re relationship which is very interesting, and it is evidently on purpose. The poem was written in a story structure with a beginning and middle and end. The poem was very cleverly written as it all points to a few things the author liked us to acknowledge about his child hood. Also, the relationship of the child and the father is a very interesting one as it is all up to the readers imagination to figure it out.
“My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke encompasses multiple emotions throughout the piece. The iambic trimeter creates a playful tone that is symbiotic with the harsh diction creating two opposing feelings. The rhythm is consistent throughout the entire poem as well as in a classic end-stop quatrain format keeping up with the easygoing tone. The first time reading this poem out loud, the tone can be deceiving and cause the eye to miss the more negative words and overall meaning. An indication of some kind of oddity is the falling rhythm in the first and third stanzas on the second and fourth lines. Ending on an unstressed syllable gives a subtle hint that something is not right. Not all of Roethke’s word choice is undesirable which is why this poem is difficult to interpret and recognize the sadness.
The balanced use of harmonic and cacophonic sounds is another misleading representation of the poems true meaning. The dramatic situation is established in the first line of poem addressing the papa about the whiskey on his breath. The alterations in the dramatic situation occur when referring to the hand that held the child’s wrist. The child, the speaker, is still talking about his papa’s hand but phrases it as if he is talking about someone else. The direction of the poem shifted to describing the papa’s hand and away from the story that is being told. The different forms of the verb to waltz are displayed and paired with expressions such as (hanging on like death) and (clinging to your shirt). Waltzing tends to be more a delicate act and coinciding it with these words makes it seem like a task and indicates need for attention and love.
These lines in the poem highlight the desperation in the child. These lines frame an image that the father is not around often and the child does not want to let go because of fear of being left alone. The line (Hanging on like death) captures the desperation of holding onto these moments and making them last. In last line of the poem before the child is put to bed, (still clinging to your shirt) the word clinging shows longing and loneliness in the child. The child knows once they are put to bed, the father will be gone and the unreliableness of the father is expressed with the irresponsible characteristic he was portrayed to have throughout the poem. The hard c in clinging reflects the far reached desire that child holds as well as the repetitive noise of the -ing sound reiterating the longing that the child wishes to pursue.
The relationship with the father is spread throughout the poem, but the relationship with the child and the mother is not ever fully discussed. The small role that the mother plays in this poem is indeed not small at all. The mother occupies one sentence in the poem, yet distinguishes herself as a character more the child who is taking the role of the speaker in first person. The majority of the second stanza uses cacophonic sounds and creates imagery that stands out amongst the rest.
The child and the father are romping around the kitchen forcing the pans to slide off the shelf and immediately you can picture a catastrophe occurring. The complete disregard to the mother’s feelings are instilled after the father’s attention was not shifted to the frown on the mother’s face or the mess that had been made. The opposite of euphemism is displayed when Roethke chooses to use the word unfrown, which is a made up word just to reiterate the harshness. The ultimate meaning of unfrown is smile but smile is a happier term that was not suitable to be paired with the mother. The continuance of the father and child’s “dance” proved that this was not an atypical occurrence and clearly indicated the roles that the father and mother play in the child’s life.
The relationship between the father and mother is weak and their love for each other does not seem to be strong. The tension in this stanza is noticeable and the mother’s infirm presence summarizes the poem in itself. Even though the poem does not directly acknowledge the relationship between the child and the mother, you can tell that the mother is generally around and the one who takes care of the child on a regular basis. The child is striving for the papa’s attention and not the mother’s because she is a stable character in the child’s life.