In the poem “My Papa’s Waltz” written by Theodore Roethke, the interpretation of the poem depends on the readers ‘perspective. Some people think that this poem is one of a happy exchange between a father and son. Other people believe that this poem has a hidden message of parental abuse. In my point of view, the imagery and language, the symbolism, and tone in the poem gave me the impression of the love between the father and son, not of an abusive relationship between them that somewhat unfolds. When introduced to the poem “My Papa’s Waltz,” the reader begins making assumptions on what the poem may or may not be about.
For example, a reader may assume that “Papa” shows an affectionate nickname for the father and the “waltz” will show an interpretation of the relationship between the narrator and his father. Therefore, it is immediately assumed that the poem will be told from the narrator’s present tense. Instead, it is actually told by Roethke as an adult, remembering the event from his childhood as thoroughly as possible. Consequently, the reader has the liberty of reading dueling perspectives: the memory of the event from an adult perspective along side the innocent point of view of a child who inevitably admires his father.
These dueling narrators, both within Roethke himself, struggle to find common ground throughout the Bassham2 poem, providing the reader with great tension on his feelings toward his father. Within this first stanza is more than just dueling perspectives. Also, the reader begins forming new conclusions on the father and event. For instance, one may assume that an abundance of drinking has occurred; however, it could merely have been one single glass. A young boy would not understand such drinking, but Roethke as an adult is showing his reader’s that his father was drunk; therefore, leaving them to decide the truth of the complexity.
Considering the first rhymes we read in this stanza are “breath” and “death” it is natural to have a feared interpretation of what may be occurring between the father and son, and it appears that Roethke is fully aware of his implications. The rhymes of “breath” and “death” are then paired with the slant rhymes, “dizzy” and “easy,” consequently, having more weight in our reading. These rhymes set a gloomy tone, yet are paired with an image that is merely about a young boy clinging to his father in dance.
Moreover, if the narrator were trying to depict an inadvertent, frightful image then why would he be trying so desperately to hold on tight to his father? Instead, would he not be trying to escape? Nonetheless Roethke is determined to provide words of ambiguity to show that his father is not as pleasant as he once had thought. The super serious tone that was laid beneath the truth of the words in stanza one is interrupted by a lighthearted beginning to the second stanza. “We romped until the pans slid from the kitchen’s shelf” is how the second stanza begins.
The word “romp” cuts the rhymes of “breath” and “death” and leaves the reader with a playful tone. Bassham 3 “Romp” is compared to play. Here, Roethke is bringing the reader out of the dizzy state of the waltz perhaps answering our question that the event is playful. The next two lines of the second stanza read: “My mother’s countenance/ could not unfrown itself. ” The slant rhymes of pans and countenance remind us of the clumsy flow of the poem and waltz itself as Roethke uses his words to spin us around in a dance. The complexity of this stanza lies in the fact that the dance has caused pans to fall and the mother to be unhappy.
However, the ambiguous sentence stating the mother’s frown may be because she is disapproving the actions of the dance, or maybe merely because the pans in her kitchen have fallen. Of course, once again Roethke leaves the reader with the responsibility to decide this for them. Stanza three opens with “the hand that held my wrist/was battered on one knuckle” giving the reader insight into who the father is. Although it could be assumed at this point that the father is a brute and alcoholic, it is only implied, not proven.
Moreover, the reader should assume that this introduction to stanza three is merely a view into the father’s blue-collar career. The stanza finishes with “at every step you missed/ my right ear scraped a buckle” which when read can be associated with some kind of abuse that the child is enduring, especially when followed by the description of “battered knuckle. ” More ambiguity is present in final stanza. Here, there is an exact tension between “beat” and “waltz,” the two words come face to face, as if Roethke is giving the reader one final chance to see the poem literally or metaphorically.
Rather than stating “you kept time on my head/with a palm caked on by dirt” the narrator states “you Bassham 4 beat time on my head. ” The word “beat” when mixed in with this poem can be taken harshly, and literally, depicting an abusive relationship. However, the poem describes a waltz, where the noun “beat” must be kept for the continuation of the dance. Once again, the reader is faced with an image that shows the father in a dark and tough light, showing his “palm caked hard by dirt. Nonetheless, despite the image of the father, the child is reluctant when the father waltzed him “off to bed. ” In fact, the boy is “still clinging to [his] shirt,” not wanting to let go. “My Papa’s Waltz” is an extremely deep poem.
Roethke does not try to hide the fact that he himself is torn on how to display his father; never the less it is apparent that he holds undying love for his “papa. ” The hard, cold evidence proves that in this poem there is a young child, much smaller than his father, and “clings” to him to continue their “romping. The father has “battered” dirty hands, and drinks a little, which are most likely memories that Roethke is remembering as an adult. Therefore, the last statement of the poem seems to unify the complexities by showing the reader that the “waltz” is something that the child is condoning. In fact, he wishes his time with his father to never to end; after all, he is left “clinging to his shirt. “
“Meaning of My Papas Waltz. ” Enotes. Ed. Susan Rowans. N. p. , 21 July 2009. Web. 6 Dec. 2012. Roethke, Theodore. “My Papa’s Waltz Poem. ” Poem Hunter. N. p. , 3 Jan. 2003. Web. 6 Dec. 2012.