Theodore Roethke is a renowned American writer whose poetry is figurative and melodic. My Papa’s Waltz is one of the most known poems by the poet, and it deals with a moment in a boy’s life. The relationship between the father and the son is the primary theme of the poem, with specific attention paid to love, as well as the financial insecurity of the family. Roethke depicts the game the father and his son play for only several minutes, but this romping tells the story of this family’s life and the relationship between the two. The present paper includes a brief analysis of the poem with a focus on imagery and figurative language.
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The poem has two major aspects that attract the reader’s attention, and one of them is the son’s love. The boy is ready to romp with the father even though the chosen game “was not easy” (Roethke). The boy is happy to spend time with his father even though the latter is very drunk. The extent to which the man is drunk is described with the help of a bright metaphor: “The whiskey on your breath / Could make a small boy dizzy” (Roethke).
The concentration of alcohol in the father’s body is sufficient to make a child drunk by inhaling. The game is rather violent, and the boy has to tolerate pain, but he still wants to continue dancing: “At every step you missed / My right ear scraped a buckle” (Roethke). The narrator is also ready to accept quite a harsh caress of his father who “beat time on my head” (Roethke). Irrespective of all these violent expressions of affection, the son loves his father “clinging” to his shirt (Roethke). The son loves his father who tries to spend time with him, romping and having fun.
The imagery the poet uses helps the reader to understand the attitude of the father. The waltzing takes place in a room where the child sleeps, which can be his bedroom. The house is not a very solid building as a game (although somewhat violent) can make “the pans / Slid from the kitchen shelf” (Roethke). It is also clear that the father has to work hard to provide for his family as his hands are “battered on one knuckle” and “caked hard by dirt” (Roethke).
These metaphors describe the economic status of the family and the problems they have. Obviously, the father is tired and overwhelmed with negative emotions. However, he still finds time and energy to play with his little son before his bedtime. The setting of the poem and the utilized imagery sheds light on the way the father feels about the son. The relationship between the man and his little son is not easy, just like the waltz itself. Importantly, the waltz is a metaphor standing for this relationship that can be fun and painful at the same time.
In conclusion, it is possible to state that in My Papa’s Waltz, Theodore Roethke describes the relationships between the father and the son. The two characters love each other irrespective of some negative aspects that could make any family bond less strong. The son is ready to forgive his father’s drinking and harsh caress and simply wants to spend time with him. The man has to endure certain difficulties and work hard, but he is still eager to play with his little son. The father is unable to show his affection in a proper way, but the son’s love makes the child accept such games gratefully.
Roethke, Theodore. “My Papa’s Waltz.” Poetry Foundation, 2020. Web.
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