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Essay about Summary Of My Papa’s Waltz By Theodore Roethke

Everyone grows up, leaving their childhood and their old life behind. When this happens, they will often look back on those happy times fondly, remembering how easy and nice it all was. In Theodore Roethke’s poem, “My Papa’s Waltz”, the speaker does just this. Nostalgically, he reflects upon a time when his father would waltz him around the house before taking him off to bed. Waltzing carelessly around the kitchen, clutching tightly to his inebriated, carefree father, knocking pans and pots down off the shelves, this is one of the prominent memories that the speaker has of his father.

The poem reminisces on these times with his father, missing the time that they could dance together. The speaker’s father had his flaws, he had a job and wasn’t home as much, he often came home extremely drunk, and he could also be careless. Through the lense of a fond memory however, the speaker instead glosses over these shortcomings and instead focuses on the fondest parts of the memory. Using descriptive imagery to show his father’s shortcomings, rhyme and rhythm to recreate the atmosphere of their waltz, and nostalgic diction to reflect fondly on the memory, Roethke creates one of the fond memories the speaker has of his father.

Roethke uses his imagery to better display to the reader all of the father’s shortcomings. The poem begins by saying one of the father’s faults. The first words show the father as an alcoholic, coming home with whiskey still on his breath. The first line of the poem says “The whiskey on your breath \ Could make a small boy dizzy” [line 1]. This very first line not only establishes the father as someone who problem has a drinking problem, but a fairly serious one at that. To come home and not just smell like a hint of whiskey but enough whiskey to make his own son dizzy suggests that the father has a serious problem with alcohol.

As the son and his father romp around their kitchen, the father isn’t perfect with his dancing. He misses steps and beats in the dance as the two waltz around the house. “At every step you missed \ My right ear scraped a buckle. ” [line 11-12]. These two lines help to display the speaker’s main reason for his faults. His father didn’t make an attempt to hurt the speaker or to scrape his ear. As he missed a step by mistake, however, the father would accidentally scrape his son’s ear against his buckle. Although the father loved his son and loved to waltz around with him, he could be careless and miss steps at the cost of his son.

The third flaw of the father isn’t as much of a flaw considering the reasons for why he did it. The speaker’s father was rarely at home. In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker remembers that his father kept time “with a palm caked hard by dirt” [line 14]. This line shows that the speaker’s father worked a long day, working in the dirt. Seeing as how it was a laborious, dirty job, he wasn’t probably payed much for. He had to spend long hours away from home so he could provide for his family, causing him to be away from his son for a lot of the time.

Despite these imperfections that the father has, the speaker still thinks of him fondly. The speaker remembers all the good that his father did and doesn’t emphasize all of his father’s faults. The title of the poem is “My Papa’s Waltz”. This is the first place you see that the speaker thinks of his father fondly and kindly. Although his father may have had a few flaws, he still refers to him as his Papa, a term that is normally used lovingly and fondly. The speaker loves his father, he used to trust to him, rely on him, and clutch to him, feeling safe in his father’s hands.

This feeling of protection and love from his father is conveyed in the last two lines of the poem, “Then waltzed me off to bed \ Still clinging to your shirt. ” [line 15-16]. The speaker clung to his father’s shirt because he trusted that his father knew what he was doing and would protect him. Line 15 also illustrated that it wasn’t a group effort. The speaker as a child trusted in his father and allowed his father to take him with wherever he went. The speaker and the father did not waltz off to bed together. Instead, the speaker allowed the father to lead him, giving him full faith and believing that his father would protect him always.

The speaker also tries to create the atmosphere of a waltz by using the rhythm of the poem. The rhythm and the lines resemble the speed and pace of a waltz. Each line has approximately 6 syllables or beats in it, equivalent to two measures of waltzing. At the end of the second stanza, Roethke writes “My mother’s countenance \ Could not unfrown itself” [line 7-8]. These two lines both are exactly 6 syllables. When they are counted as triplets, they move at the rhythm of a waltz. Roethke also accounts for the imperfection of the waltz, however. The waltz that the speaker’s father dances is not completely perfect.

It is a drunken dance, with missed steps and falling pans. To account for this, Roethke has lines with more than 6 syllables in order for the reader to experience the imperfection of the dance that he and his father are dancing. Nearing the end of this poem, Roethke writes “With a palm caked hard by dirt” [line 12]. Lines like these are more than 6 syllables long and serve to illustrate that this dance was not meant to be perfect, it was meant to have missed steps and accidental parts of it written in. Roethke uses this poem to communicate the speaker’s feelings about his father.

The speaker is fond of his father, recognizing his loving and caring nature although he may make mistakes from time to time. Using his imagery to display the father’s faults, Roethke shows that in no way was his father perfect, his father made mistakes along the way and missed steps of the waltz. Roethke also uses his specific, loving, diction to illustrate the love that he had for his father even through all of his mistakes. Finally, using rhythm to represent an imperfect waltz, Roethke symbolizes his father and his father’s faulty nature. Although the waltz missed counts and had extra beats, it can still be appreciated and danced to.

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