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My Papa's Waltz

Theodore Roethke

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Added by: Mel
If this poem was such a happy memory, Roethke would not have used such harsh terms as "battered" or "beat". This is a poem about a boy using a defense mechanism, (calling his abuse a waltz) so as to save his mind from the agony of being mistreated. Even if this does reflect a past experience of Roethke himself, it does not mean that the author could use the poem to express something different. That is why it is called creative writing.
Added by: Abby
wow i thought this poem was about a man who was raping his daughter in the kitchen...wow i was waaay far off
Father's love
Added by: Gordon
Fathers always don't know how to express their love, so they always keep quite. Using their action such as waltz(their labor works) instead of speaking up their felling.
Only A Child
Added by: Tyffani
No matter what the child loved his father. He said that his father's breath smelt of whiskey, but the child didn't care at all. He said that his father was clumsy, but the child still danced with him. My view is that no matter what happens, if the father is good to the child, then the child will love him unconditionally just because they are being treated well.
Added by: I know
this poem is NOT about child abuse. I thought the same thing at first. This poem is a childhood memory. If Roethke was abused as a child, do you honestly think he would have only written one short poem about it- and leaving it so ambiguous to abuse or childsplay. I strongly feel it is just a recollection of a happy time with his father.
Rothke's poem
Added by: Kendra
I remember reading this during an English class in college, and I recall our professor saying that Rothke suffered from Manic Depression, and that perhaps this poem opens a memory of his feeling a little out of control, a little breathless, a little manic as a little boy...I personally don't have any experience with manic depression, but I do recall playing with my father, and sometimes the play going a little too far, and something happening (breaking a clock, or banging my head) and yet being breathless and smiling at the same time...I never felt unsafe or as if I were being abused, but looking back, I realize that my dad just didn't know my limits - probably a likely story for a father who has whiskey on his breath as well...
Added by: Angela
When I first heard the poem, I assumed it was just a cute little poem about a boy remembering dancing with his father. Although the father was clumsy, and a little bit drunk, the boy still clung to him with admiration.

When I read the poem, my perception changed. While Roethke uses words like "beat, battered," etc, it has a slightly negative connotation. The poem is ambiguous, and I believe Roethke wanted it that way. Is it about violence? Or is it about a child remembering the good times he had with his alcoholic father as a way to shut out the bad?

It's up to the reader to decide. Roethke has asked the question-- but you must supply your own answer. Really, what seems like such a simple and "cute" poem, is so much more...it forces the reader to analyze, question, and most importantly realize that there is not a concrete answer for everything.
Added by: anonymous
I don't think the poem had anything to with abuse. My rendition of the poem was that the boy was actually enjoying the deal, which is why he called a "waltz." In society, like the mother, a drunk father "beat[ing] time on [someone's] head" might suggest that he was abusing the son, but it never mentions in the poem that the speaker feared the father. I think that in interpreting this poem, one needs to consider the different perspectives the poem can be read in... there's my lwittle schpeal...
Added by: Dalai Lama
This poem was our task in an impoertant English class paper, and I interpreted it as child abuse. When my teacher said that it is just about a father dancing with his son I couldn't believe that, for many of my classmates had also written something of abuse. So I tried to find an interpretation of it in the internet, and now I am still of the opinion that the father hurts and abuses his son. But I also think that there can be very different meanings of the poem. I hope my teacher will think so, too, and agree to each interpretation.
My Papa's Waltz
Added by: Christopher
Does whiskey on the breath necessarily mean "alcoholic?" I suppose a cigar on the breath automatically means "lung cancer." In time perhaps, but not unless specified, I can't consider it in explication. I drive too fast for the Los Angeles freeways at times. Should that be equated with "deathwish" or a guy who has eaten one too many bran muffins chased by thick coffee, rushing home to the bathroom?

Words such as "romped" suggest that the event chronicled here was not an abusive one. Especially when the child was "waltzed off to bed."

His father could have come home, drunk, knuckle battered from a bar fight...or that hand could have been injured in its labors as it became "caked hard by dirt." But "beating" a time in a dance has absolutely nothing to do with abuse beating. Could haves are not entirely supported by what is actually on the page, literal, explicated through a therapeutic eye or by those of us who refuse to equate a drunken dance with alcoholism. Perhaps there were other such nights. But they're not mentioned in this poem.

So his father drank. And his mother disapproved. And the small child clung to this man and such moments....does not make it abuse.

That a sensitive son would so fondly remember his rough around the edges father so vividly....that's beautiful. It may not be YOUR idealized vision of a father, nor was it likely as the boy Roethke would have liked it. But there it was, his Papa and his moment. It ain't Hollywood, but it's beautiful nonetheless.

We are a therapy-polluted generation. Yes, therapy has helped. But it has also hurt.

The Papa of this Waltz is to me, akin to the man sitting in the Shreve High football stadium in James Wright's poem "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio." Sad in many ways, proud though perhaps unschooled - and deeply feeling. In other words, completely American working class male. Remember those? Don't see 'em around too much on college campuses. Not much room for them in academia.

Is it possible to enjoy food/drink and physicality and intellectual stimulation without devaluing any of them? Probably so, but it seems as if it's a trade off - "The working man" as an intellectualized idea is as wrongheaded as the idea that a "college boy" is soft in the ideology of a real "workin' man."

Somewhere in the middle of it all, drink or not, hard, calloused hands or with carpal tunnel from too much time on the computer writing theses, there is a model for an American man at work and play here.

Roethke, I think, hit upon the model he had as an example about as well as anyone could have.

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