"My Papa's Waltz" written by Theodore Roethke.

Essay by kayakero November 2003

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Analysis of "My Papa's Waltz"

In the poem "My Papa's Waltz" written by Theodore Roethke, the interpretation of the poem depends on the readers'perspective. The title itself, the word choices, and the rhythm in the poem gave me the impression that the father is not abusive but drunk. The interpretation takes into account the complexity of what the speaker feels that are bought about by the father. A dance is supposed to bring two people closer but here it has a darker side to it that makes one realize the powerfully unsettling emotion.

The poem is about a young boy waltzing with his father. One can assume that the speaker is a young boy, or perhaps the poet reminiscing his youth. The father dances around in a haphazard manner, knocking over pans in the kitchen. Upon first glance, the tone is humorous. The picture one immediately forms is rather comical with the boy clinging on for dear life as his chuckling father spins him round and round, making a mess in the kitchen while the mother looks on discontentedly.

However, the line, "whiskey on your breath could make a small boy dizzy" suggests the father's drunkenness and "at every step you missed my right ear scraped buckle" suggests the dance was not an altogether joyful one. Lines such as "hung on like death", and "beat time on my head" are might even lead the reader to think the father is abusive of the boy. Indeed, the satirical tone of this poem suggests that the speaker is somewhat critical of his father. The whiskey smell, the roughness, the inconsiderate and reckless actions are under scrutiny. The mother's frowning countenance suggests she too is rather unhappy with the scene. However, the winning tone of the poem is the light and comical one.