My Papa's Waltz

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My Papa’s Waltz
My Papa’s Waltz has been compared to a generational litmus test. Depending on what generation the reader was born, could determine how the reader would interpret this poem. Each generation has its own views that have been developed in them for the language used to describe Papa in this poem. The whiskey on his breath and Papa’s hand beating on his head, both sound like a negative connotation. Depending on the experience of the reader, they can either be disturbed by these words or be drawn in closer to the poem. Theodore Roethke loved his father. Not only did he love him, but he idolized him and unfortunately lost him at an early age. This poem is a reflective memorial waltz written in iambic trimeter to honor his father and mother.
The poem takes the reader back in time for a moment to a small kitchen and a young boy at bedtime. The dishes have been cleared and placed on the counter or in the sink. The family is seated around the table. The father having a glass of whiskey to relax after a very hard day working in the family owned twenty-five-acre greenhouse complex. He is asked to take his small son to bed. The poem begins, “The whiskey on your breath could make a small boy dizzy” (Roethke line 1) enlists the imagery of what the young boy was smelling as he most likely climbed aboard his fathers’ large work boots for the evening waltz to bed. It is obvious this is an evening ritual, one that is cherished. The boy is aware of his fathers’ waltzing abilities and he concedes that he is up for the challenge. The irony of the statement, “I hung on like death” (Roethke line 3) is a private one, yet deeply describes his yearning for one more waltz with his father who passed away when Theodore was only fifteen years ...

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...s his father tucks him into bed. He reflects on their lives. They have had their ups and downs, their struggles and their victories, and all the way his strong hand has held onto him tightly and never let him go. And Theodore has hung on to his father noticing that even though his knuckle was battered, he still didn’t let go of him. He writes that every step Papa missed it hurt him too. He doesn’t care if his ear scraped the buckle, he is just glad to be along for the ride. He is proud of his father and his legacy. With the image of his Papa waltzing off to bed the little boy is still clinging to his shirt. With this image he is letting the reader know that not only does is he proud of his father and all that he taught him in the short time he was with him, but he is clinging onto his memory every day.

Works Cited
Roethke, Theodore. My Papa's Walz. 1948.
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