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My Papa's Waltz

Theodore Roethke

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Added by: Jamilynn
I think that this poem can be seen as both. On one hand, the child is hanging on like death to his father so he doesn't want to let go, but if you look at it another way, his father seems to be slamming him into walls since the pans are sliding from the shelves. FYI: Roethke was never abused as a child, but his father died when he was in college.
Either way, I love this poem.
The Best Part
Added by: Maddie
Damnit people! You can't see the meaning of this poem just by looking at the word choices and connotations. Roethke uses iambic trimeter in the majority of his lines. There are four stanzas of four lines each. See it? The poem itself is in 3/4 timing, just like a waltz. This poem is not about child abuse, or alocoholism. It's about the times spent dancing with your father at midnight, clinging to his shirt like death so the moment would never end. Sometimes the literal meaning lies a little deeper all the same.
Added by: meghan
I concur with Maddie, the diction and syntax are what make the poem, giving us the interpretation Roethke had intended. For instance, he chooses the word "romped" over danced or even waltzed to suggest that is was a carefree, boisterous kind of play-like movement. Not to mention that as children we tend to see and remember the world as a series of fragment images, the belt buckle (which was eye height), the pan sliding on the counter, those are all flash images that one would recall as an adult, not the full context of the situation. You all are so serious.
Added by: Therese
The poem IS about child abuse. The author found it too painful to express out and out, so he used the analogy of dancing. His father abused him terribly.
Father and Mother
Added by: Carmen Wisdom
I find it amazing that no commentary so far (unless I've missed some) has addressed the contrast between father and mother.

The father is rough, yes. His drinking makes him, and his son, unsteady. His hand (with a knuckled scraped, probably, from fighting) beats time on the boy's head, his buckled scrapes an ear--such waltzing is not easy. There is a volatility to this relationship. But it is the father who waltzes with the boy, not the disapproving (cold) mother, whose countenance cannot unfrown itself, who offers no waltz. The poet clings to the shirt of the parent whose love is difficult, painful, and alive. The mother is referred to as "my mother," but the poem is addressed to the father--"The whiskey on your breath..."

This is not necessarily a poem about child abuse--it strikes me as rather a poem about a child who loves the parent who, however painfully, loves him back--who waltzes with him and carries him off to bed.
Added by: drew
i either think it is a poem about a boy and his dad, and his dad beats him when he is drunk. "the dads hand holds his wrist" (drags the boy) "every step you missed my right ear scraped a buckle" (he got hit with a belt) "you beat me on the head" (hit him) so i think he is afraid of his dad but also afraid to loose his dad. or it might be about a boy and his drunken dad who are dancing when his dad holds his wrist its so the boy wont fall so the boy can stand on his feet. Every step he missed his right ear scraped a buckle because the boy is short and if they both went a different direction he would scrape his ear. when he beat time on his head mabey the dad was tapping his head so the boy could stay on beat. i think it is at least one of those but mabey it is both.
It is about abuse
Added by: Mike Jones
I have no doubt that this poem is about a child being abused by his father. The waltz "was not easy", which seems to indicate that they weren't merely playing. The lines "At every step you missed / My right ear scraped a buckle" shows that the boy was beaten because of his father's failures. And the line "You beat time on my head" indicates that the beatings cause the speaker to grow up faster than other children. I have heard how the author of the poem was not abused by his father, but that is something that most people wouldn't care to admit.
Added by: Kristen
In my English AP class, we are studying poetry and this poem is one of the poems we discussed. After an hour of arguing and disagreements, we did alot of research and finally realized what the poem is really about. The father in the story is a hard-worker, (most likely in some sort of construction business) which explains the palm caked by dirt and the battered knuckle. And after a hard day of work he would go out with his friends to have a drink or too to relax over the hard day of work, which was common in this time. When the father gets home, he wants to spend some time with his child because that is all the time he gets to spend with his child during the day. The child is not being abused because there is no evidence in the poem of physicaly being beaten. The statements "you beat time on my head," and "the hand that held my wrist" are not referring to abuse, but may sound that way. "you beat time on my head" is just referring to the passing time. The boy is not scared or afraid of dying by being twirled around. He is clinging to his father because he wants to be close to him, since he works all day this is all he gets to see his dad and misses him. He wasnt scared by the dancing, he enjoyed it. And this can be proven because the child was still clinging to his shirt when his father brought him to bed because the time he spent with his father that night would have to carry on til the next night so he wanted to soak up his father as much as he could. This is the REAL meaning of the poem because it has an overall positive tone.
Added by: Nick
I think this is a good memory for this little boy because he was to small to understand. If he was older it might have been a bad experience. but i still think that is was a good one for him because he was so so little.
Added by: Charlee
With no doubt in mind I think that this poem is a very unique poem. Before I get into what my opinion is I would like to throw out a fact about Theofore Roethke. While growing up, Roethke and his father had a very abusive relationship and his father was truly an alcoholic. Now, back to what I think. Knowing that Roethke and his father had an abusive relatioship leads me to think that this poem is of a memorable time that Roethke had with his father. Although they were dancing around in their kitchen it seems like Roethke wasn't really enjoying himself, he was just trying to feel a connection with his father and possibly bond. As far as his father is concerned, it seems like he's a hardcore person that doesn't exactly know how to express his love. This poem seems to be expressing one of the best moments that Roethke had with his father which obviously isn't a time that he was being beaten.

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