My Papas Waltz
“My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke
A young boy is waltzing with his drunken father. His mother is unhappy about the commotion they’re making. They danced until the young boy was tired and put him to bed.
The time that Theodore Roethke had spent in the greenhouse, owned by his father and uncle, influenced his ability to write. These childhood memories inspired many of his writings. One of these books called “Open House” took him ten years to write and was recognized quickly on publication. Another of these books was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1954 called, “The Walking”.
This poem was very rhythmic, almost like a musical beat.
Line three of the poem is a simile. It says, “but I hung on like death:” comparing the boy’s grasp to his father to a death grip, as if he were going to fall to his death.
He demonstrates personification in lines seven and eight when he writes, “My mother’s countenance could not unfrown itself.” He gives the mother’s ‘countenance’ the ability to ‘unfrown itself’ (unfrown is not even a word)…like it has a mind of it’s own.
The poet being the narrator has a casual tone in this poem. He’s basically telling a short story of his childhood.
This poem is pretty obvious. The poet tells about a childhood memory. He’s remembering how he used to dance with his father when he was young. Although, whiskey on the father’s breath did throw me off a little. This had me thinking the father could have been abusive, considering parts of the poem like line four, “Such waltzing was not easy.” I did keep in mind that memories are usually pleasant images of long ago. The word ‘memories’ usually wouldn’t be used in an upsetting moment. Lines five and six, “We romped until the pans slid from the kitchen shelf.” Did they actually waltz that harshly or were they really roughing around? Also lines seven and eight, “My mother’s countenance could not unfrown itself.” Was she upset because of the ruckus of fun they were having or was she upset at the husband’s drinking habits?
Was waltzing Roethke’s way of explaining a type of abuse?
Who or what do you think his mother’s countenance was meant for?