Theodoe Roethke writes a very simple poem called “My Papa’s Waltz”. Roethke will not let his characters communicate and reveal thier feelings and you must determine for yourself if fhe speaks of abuse or a happy reminiscence. Edward Foster comments, “The poem will let you meet Roethke’s father who gives a mixture of tenderness and brutality that will reveal itself. There he describ es how Otto a bit drunk, would roughly waltz him around while his mother looked on disapprovingly and he himself was both afraid and joyful.
This poem with a few short verses will give you different interpretations of the poets past history with his father. First, imagery is used through our basic senses of touch, smell, and hering. Roethere used these very effectively, in his poem he uses smell. In the first stanza, the word whiskey, as it is described, being on the father’s breath, gives a negative image. Who can ever forget a person who presents themselves with the stench of alcohol about them? The amount was so great that it “couldl make a small boy dizzy”. As they continue to waltz, the boy “hung on like death”.
This imagery and the strong simile may case readers to subconsciously decide that the child is in an abusive situation. In the third line the word “death” brings out a very negative association with the word. The first stanza then gives negative imagery as it ends with the words “not easy” revealing staggering dance movements around the kitchen. / We can see negative image in the face of the mother, “her countenance could not unfrown itself”. Her disapproval of the fathers drunkenness would be seen as a danger to any small child. “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theordore Roethke is a poem overstuffed with many mixed interpretations.
Some will say the poem is about a man looking back on happy times. Some people even say the poelm is a story about a little boy dancing with his father joyfully. Although, there are many different ways to interpret this poem, there are various words to describe abuse and just plain horsefplay between a father and son. When reading thie poem one must come to their own conclusion as to the meaning of Roethke’s writing which is described y himself as “I had an unusual upbringing” and “I write only what I believe to be the absolute thruth”.