My Papa’s Waltz

Picked By
J.F. grade 12
Media Type
Teen Reviews - Books
In Theodore Roethke’s poem, “My Papa’s Waltz”, a man reflects on a childhood experience of being walked to his bedroom by his inebriated father, comparing it to a waltz and expressing the love and connection he has with his father. In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker talks about how his father’s breath smelled heavily like whiskey, but he still clung on to his father, saying it wasn’t easy to walk with him. This stanza has a slightly negative tone associated with it, because the smell of whiskey on his fathers breath was so potent it “Could make a small boy dizzy”. There is also a negative connotation when the speaker says “I hung on like death”, saying that he was hanging on to his father for dear life In the second stanza, the speaker explains how his father was knocking all the pans off the kitchen shelf, and how her mother was very unhappy with her husband. This stanza also has a negative tone because the father and child “Romped until the pans slid from the kitchen shelf”. This implies that mostly the father was being very rowdy, and not paying much attention to what he was doing. At the end of the stanza, the speaker says his mother’s face couldn’t be anything but a frown, which implies that her husband made her very upset. The third stanza also has a very negative tone. This stanza, however, could suggest that the father was potentially beating either his son or wife, when the speaker says “The hand that held my wrist, was battered on one knuckle”. The speaker also talks about how his father would bump into him every time he missed a step. Finally, in the fourth stanza, this might have one of the most negative tones in the poem. The stanza starts off by saying “You beat time on my head, with a palm caked hard by dirt.” This very heavily suggests that the father was hitting his son in some sort of way. The poem ends by talking about how he was taken to bed still clinging to his fathers shirt. In summary, the poem maintains a negative tone throughout its entirety, progressively getting more negative as the poem progresses.