Dancing around the Truth of My Papa’s Waltz Essay

Dancing around the Truth of My Papa’s Waltz Essay

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The poem, “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke, is about a boy reminiscing about an incidence with his father. From the beginning, this poem states the conflict between a father and son involved in a rambunctious dance, but as it continues, the story suggests the dance may actually be a physical altercation. Within the line, “Such waltzing was not easy,” is the proposal this is not a singular incident, but rather a routine ritual between the boy and his father (Line 4). The speaker is an adult recollecting, to himself as the audience, a childhood memory of an incident with his father. As the poem opens, the child recalls his father engaging in act of the drinking whiskey to the extent that the fumes of his breath made him dizzy or lightheaded, as if the adrenaline coursing through his veins from wrestling or struggling with his father wasn’t enough to make him unsteady. The child is hanging on to his father as a way of protecting himself from the assault being inflicted upon him. When the narrator states within the simile, “But I hung on like death,” death symbolizes a force inescapable and not able to release its grasp (3). As the poem continues, the speaker uses the term “romped” to describe the movement within the waltz. A waltz is an elegant, flowing type of dance and one does not “romp” through a waltz. The two participants are causing such a ruckus, the mother’s pans slide off a shelf in the kitchen. As the mother looks on, she is silent with only a frown as an expression of her disapproval. The speaker states his father’s hand “was battered on one knuckle,” suggesting the hand had been injured possibly from another violent incident in the past (10). As the commotion continues, the child is “waltzed” into his bedroom, the ...

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...perpetrated on the small child (13). Tapped or stroked may have been a more tactile image designated in the place of the word “beat” if this was truly a frolicking moment between a father and son. The next line, “With a palm caked hard by dirt,” the speaker uses this syntax to sympathize with the father and excusing his actions based his working class upbringing (14). The last two lines of the poem, “Then waltzed me off to bed / Still clinging to your shirt,” as the action diminishes, the child is clearly grasping in terror, afraid to let go of his father for fear of reprisal (15, 16). The word “clinging” is a denotation of the speaker adhering to a memory of his past.

Works Cited

Roethke, Theodore.“My Papa’s Waltz.” Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama.
Ed. Robert DiYanni. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 773. Print.

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