“My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke is a representation of the journey toward reconciliation of the love and the fear that the speaker, a young boy, has for his father, and is an extended metaphor for the way that we balance the good and bad in our lives. Whilst reading this poem it is impossible to determine definitively whether it is truly about a dance or if the speaker is actually being abused. However, I don’t believe that it really matters either way. Actually, I believe it is this ambiguity and push and pull between the two extremes that creates the overall sense of struggle that comes with the reconciliation of the facets of the father and son’s relationship. This dance between love and fear is accentuated by Roethke’s use of ambiguous diction, end rhyme, and iambic trimeter.
The word choice used by the author really accentuates the conflicting ideas of the meaning of this poem. The first line in the poem introduces the fact that the father has been drinking whiskey. Now, most of us know that people have different reactions to alcohol. Some people are funny and like to have a good time, others become pretty mean. Which category the father falls in is hotly debated, however, most agree that the father’s drinking is the catalyst for the events in the rest of the poem be it waltzing or beating. Then comes the line, “But I hung on like death.” This is an incredibly powerful simile. Death has a negative connotation and adds a darkness to the piece as well as creating some very strong and powerful imagery. Also in the vein of imagery, the description of the father’s hands as “battered on one knuckle,” and “palm caked hard by dirt,” are very descriptive. His hands’ knuckles could be battered (which is an intense word that u...
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...oem a dance the author is symbolically representing life. Which adds credence to the idea that the poem is a metaphor for life.
The undercurrent of violence keeps us on our toes as the rhythm and flow waltz’s us along to the end of the piece where we are left wondering about the life and relationships of our dance partners. Somehow, we just danced out way through an extended metaphor of the relationship between this father and son, and in essence a metaphor for handling the good and bad in life. A metaphor which depicts a life of love and fear, of happiness and distress. This piece portrays how we all must learn to reconcile the good and the bad in life and relationships, to “hang on like death,” to the good and not become too “dizzy” and caught up in the bad. This poem is a fantastic representation of the journey that we all take through this dance we call life.
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