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My Papa's Waltz Analysis

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In his poem, “My Papa’s Waltz,” Theodore Roethke, an award-winning and critically acclaimed poet, emphasizes the strong bond between a father and his son by describing a drunken father dancing in the kitchen with his young son. Unfortunately, when Roethke was only fourteen, his father passed away from cancer and his uncle committed suicide. Although these events are tragic, they impacted Roethke deeply and influenced his works, especially “My Papa’s Waltz” (CITE). Through his use of diction, style, and imagery in “My Papa’s Waltz,” Roethke effectively supports the theme of a child’s admiration for his parents. Roethke’s word choice in the title allow him to convey a cheery, yet solemn tone and set the scene for the rest of the poem. Although…show more content…
In the third and fourth lines, Roethke describes the boy trying to keep up with his father’s dance. He states, “But I hung on like death: / Such waltzing was not easy” (3-4). Roethke’s use of the simile “I hung on like death” implies that the waltz is extremely difficult and fast; however, he only states that it “was not easy.” The contrast between the diction in this two lines exemplifies the admiration the child has for his father. The child does not want to blame his father’s drunkenness for the difficulty of the waltz, so he downplays the difficulty instead. Roethke continues to use contrasting diction to emphasize the child’s love for his father. In the third stanza, Roethke describes the waltz, ‘At every step you missed / My right ear scraped a buckle” (11-12). Obviously, it is painful for the child to have his ear scraped at every missed step, but he refuses to speak up or stop because he loves dancing with his father. Lastly, and possibly the most dramatic of all the contrasts, is the last two lines of the poem. Roethke states, “Then waltzed me off to bed / Still clinging to your shirt” (15-16). Roethke uses of the word “clinging” offers two meaning. The boy must cling onto his father in order to not fall down, but at the same time, the boy clings to his father because he loves him so much. Roethke’s word choice throughout the boy,…show more content…
The two prominent images evoked throughout the poem are the dance itself and the violence associated with the dance. Roethke first uses olfactory imagery as he explains the father’s breath after drinking. He states, “The whiskey on your breath / could make a small boy dizzy;” (1-2). It is now evident to the reader that the father is drunk and that the situation could lead to violence. The title of the poem sets the scene of a happy, upbeat dance between a father and son; however, the reader quickly uncovers the truth. In the second stanza, Roethke utilizes auditory imagery as he describes, “We romped until the pans / slid from the kitchen shelf;” (5-6). These lines create the image of a rough dance in the kitchen, which forces the boy to hold on tight to his father. Although the dance entails violence, the reader still understands that the boy loves his father. In addition, Roethke uses visual imagery as he depicts the father’s hand in the third stanza. He describes, “The hand that held my wrist / Was battered on one knuckle;” (9-10). These lines imply violence as “battered” is an intense word to describe a knuckle. The poem continues, “At every step you missed / My right ear scraped a buckle” (11-12). Although the father is not intentionally being violent, he is still accidentally harming his son. Additionally, the image of a
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