My Papas Waltz by Theodore Roethke - Assignment Example

The poem entitled My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke is written in the first person and apparently represents an autobiographical account of an experience that he had as a young child. It is a relatively simple tale, told from the perspective of that child, who enjoys clinging to his father and dancing around the room…
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My Papas Waltz by Theodore Roethke
Download file to see previous pages The surface meaning is just the description of that crazy dance, and the context in which it took place, but between the lines there are deeper meanings which reflect the complex relationship which the young boy must have had with each of his parents. The great charm of the poem lies in its ability to conjure up these deep meanings by implication, thus letting the reader figure out the emotional messages underneath.
Theodore Roethke is a twentieth century American poet whose parents were German immigrants who had a 25-acre greenhouse in which the whole family worked (Hirsch xiv). Roethke’s father Otto was a hard working man, who built up his business by labouring in the soil and unfortunately he died young, while Theodore was still a teenager. This means that the poet never had the chance to develop a fully adult relationship with his father. Like most teenagers he no doubt experienced some friction in that relationship, which means that the memories of childhood are likely to be the most positive ones in terms of this father/son bond.
The main persona in the poem is the narrator figure of the boy. The tone is intimate, and nostalgic, revealing the close relationship between father and son. The structure of the poem is a set of four regular stanzas, with an abab rhyme scheme as for example in stanza three the rhymes are wrist/missed and knuckle/buckle, and in stanza four the are head/bed and dirt/shirt. In the first two stanzas there is assonance rather than full rhyme, as for example dizzy/easy.
The rhythm of the poem is also very regular, with a steady beat, except for line 6, in which the beat shifts from the second syllable to the very first syllable “slid”. This sudden switch underlines the disruptive event which is being narrated, namely the crashing of the pans on to the floor, caused by the careless whirling of the father and son in the kitchen. This is a skilful merging of content and form, to create a change in pace and abrupt jerk in the flow of the text. Each stanza represents a complete syntactic unit of one sentence, and there is a natural break between the first two lines and the second two lines in each stanza also. This gives the poem a very secure and steady frame, as if to underline the firm hold that the father has on the child, and the repetitive steps of the waltz going round again and again in the confined space of the kitchen. The image of the father and small son dancing is evocative of family life, since it is not often that men dance together in this way. It shows trust between the two. Most of the poem is literal description, except for one simile in the first stanza “But I hung on like death” (Roethke, line 3). This simile is very significant, in the light of the death of the poet’s father at a young age, and it is a powerful way of declaring the connection that existed between the son and father, recalled now by the adult poet as a way of overcoming the sad separation of death. A contrast between the mother and father figures is given in the depiction of the father as having whiskey on his breath and dirt on his hands, which suggests he is a hard-drinking working class man, while the mother is depicted as frowning at the disarray of the pans in the kitchen, suggesting that she plays a traditional housewife role, taking care of domestic duties. The father’s hand is “battered on one knuckle” (Roethke, line 10) which may suggest he has been in a fight, especially when considered along with the mention of whiskey in the first stanza. Between the lines, the reader may assume that the father can be violent and out of control, though he evidently loves his son, while the mothe ...Download file to see next pagesRead more
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