Similar Themes, Different StylesIn Raymond Carver's "Ultra-Marine", the reader witnesses his despair and depression on his outlook of life. He is lonely and somewhat angry about the things happening in his life. He sees no hope for the future and all his memories are that of sadness, pain and unrealized dreams. Carver's use of metaphors conveys his outlook of life. In "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke, the poet is able to convey the idea of child abuse through the imagery that he uses in his poems. In his poem he portrays the relationship between the father and son. Although the father shows his love violently, the son is there when the father needs him. Even though Carver and Roethke have different styles, they are able to convey the same themes of loneliness, desperateness and anger.
"My Papa's Waltz" has different interpretations, though looking closely at each stanza one is able to see the parental abuse hidden under the poet's words.
The violent child abuse is done by the drunken father where one could smell "the whiskey on [his] breath" (Roethke 1: 508). Even though the poem is a short poem, almost every stanza resembles a theme. In the first and the last stanza, the reader is able to witness desperateness. The boy "hung on like death" (Roethke 3: 508) when it was too hard to hold on. The boy is so desperate for the father's love that when he is hitting the boy really hard he doesn't let go. Also, in the last stanza we can see the same kind of action. While the father is "beat[ing] time on [the boy's] head" (Roethke 13: 508) he basically "cling[s] to [his] shirt" (Roethke 16: 508) not letting go even with the pain that the father is causing him. Both these stanza's can be seen as desperateness for the father's love. The boy is anxious for love, which enables him to bear the pain of his father's beating.
From the beating scene there is a transition to the messiness of the kitchen, which is a result of the boy being thrown around the kitchen. The second stanza therefore resembles the theme of loneliness. Even though the boy has his parents around him, he is lonely. The boy is lonely because his mother is just frowning and not doing anything while the father is beating up their son; he is not getting any love from his parents. In the third stanza, the reader is able to witness the anger in the father. The anger in this stanza is expressed through the words "battered" and "scraped". Roethke says "At every step [he] missed/ [his] right ear scraped a buckle" (508), meaning that the father punished his son even when it was his fault for not doing something right.
Roethke is able to convey his feelings through his use of words. This gives the poem a unique style. It is in a lyrical poetry form, which enables the reader have a better understanding of the poem. Every other line in this poem rhymes with each other. For example, the first line it ends with "breath" and the third line ends with "death". This rhythmic continuation adds a new dimension to this poem. During waltz every two measures one would have to turn, so the poet rhymes every two lines making the poem feel more like a dance rather than just the beating of the son. With the line breaks, the reader is able to feel the steps of waltz. These rhythmic lines add a livelier feel since the poet tries to embrace the feeling of love and the hitting of the father under the same roof.
Despite the differences in style, both personal abuse and the themes of loneliness, and anger can be seen in Carver's poems. Starting with Carver's poem "The Jungle" (30), the reader is able to feel desperateness for the love of the flight attendant in the poem. "He goes on considering her hands" (Carver 25: 31), in this quote we can see that Carver is observing her even though she might not even pay attention to him. The reader is able to notice the desperateness since the passenger is focused on the flight attendant. This theme is similar to that of Roethke's where the son is focused on the father's love. He does not even notice the mother. The anxiousness for the love of the flight attendant is connected with the hope of maybe the flight attendant liking the man. Just like the son from "My Papa's Waltz", in "The Young Fire Eaters of Mexico City" the children "do what they do for a few pesos" (Carver 7-8: 60). The connection here is that in Roethke's poem the son bared with the beating from his father just to be close to him. Also in Carver's poem, the children had to do what they had to in order to meet their certain needs. In Carver's poem "Stupid" (21-22), the character in the poem is desperate to get his life on track; he tries to make something out of his life by trying to help his family members. Like the son from Roethke's poem, in "Stupid" the man is desperate for his family member's love. The difference in Carver's poem is that the man also hopes that his family member's don't contact him just to ask for money.
Most of Carver's poems in "Ultra-Marine" involve loneliness like Roethke's poem "My Papa's Waltz" where the son is left without love. The son is lonely because everyone around him uses him for something they need to achieve. Like the father uses him to reveal his stress. In "Ultramarine", "This Morning", talks about a man who is alone in the woods. He talks about the scenery around him. After a while, he "doesn't know where [he] is" (Carver 30-31: 4) and has no one to get help from. In "The Cobweb", the man is worried that "before anyone realizes, / [he] will be gone" (Carver 12-13: 9); here we are able to see that the man has no one. If he is to die no one will notice him, this is a sign of loneliness in the house. "The Mail" mentions some family of the author though he only has their memories since they don't live by him. He is lonely because the only time his family send him a mail is when they need some money. Carver talks about how he lost his loved one and how he is just left with the memories of his love in the poem "Where They'd Lived" (17). This poem talks about another kind of loneliness where the poet was happy at first, but then his wife passed away. In the beginning the poet talks about how they were "determined to be invincible" (Carver 7:17), but then the man stopped loving her since she was dead. All these poems are a direct connection to Roethke's poem's theme loneliness since in "My Papa's Waltz" the father does love his son but the love is gone once he is drunk.
In both poems the theme of anger is connected with alcohol. In "My Papa's Waltz" this anger is expressed through the poet's word choice whereas in Carver's poem's he is angry with himself for ruining his life with his alcoholism. The poem "The Projectile" is about a boy that gets humiliated in front of his peers. He cannot express his anger with words, therefore he "weeps in front of those though guys" (Carver 36-37: 12). In the "Autopsy Room", the poet feels no joy in life and he grinds his emotions therefore sharpening his pain. These emotions make him feel angry with himself since he cannot do anything in his life. He says, "Nothing was happening. Everything was happening" (Carver 29-30: 16). These lines resemble his anger in life where he cannot control anything. He is unclear about what is going on in his life. In "The Young Fire Eaters of Mexico City" talks about the young kids in Mexico City where they drink at such a young age. This angers Carver since he lost everything he had when he was drunk.
In "My Papa's Watlz", there is also a lot of imagery, metaphors, symbolism and paradox. The poet's word choice is something to be noticed since some words that he uses are very descriptive, which enables the reader to see an image of the action such as "battered", "romped", "clinging" and "countenance". Also, by choosing words carefully, the poet is able to influence the reader's emotions by placing innocent and pleasant words in the first part of the poem such as "romping" and "waltzing". The more disturbing words such as "battering" and "beating" are towards the end. By doing this, the poet is able to create an overall effect, which seems like a drunk person waltzing. The metaphors in this poem are something else that makes this poem more unique. The expression about how drunk the father is can be interpreted from the fact that the father's breath "could make a small boy dizzy" (Roethke 2: 508). The poet uses figure of speech when he mentions the father "beat[ing] time on [his] head" (Roethke 13: 508). The metaphors are supported with symbolism. The "waltzing" in this poem can be interpreted as the father beating up his son. This symbolism is able to downgrade the affect of child abuse in this poem. By talking about waltzing, the poet is not just mentioning that the father is beating up his son, but instead he leaves the interpretation to the reader. The poet is able to downgrade this since he is not mentioning any words of abuse but rather implying it with his explanation of the waltz. The paradox in this poem happens with the poet's play of words. On one hand the poet mentions the playful characteristics of the father, but then he relates it to a rough play. This paradox can be seen in the second stanza when the author mentions that the father and son are romping (joyfully playing), but then in the second line the joyful play results in a rough play where "the pans/ Slid from the kitchen shelf" (Roethke 5-6: 508).
Carver and Roethke are able to convey the same themes by using different styles. Unlike Roethke's style, Carver's poems are more narrative because his poems are usually longer and more descriptive. Carver's poem "Egress" (44), is like paragraphs in a novel. He sets the setting, and introduces the characters. Carver also uses complete sentences in this poem, which does not have the rigid poetic look. The poem "Earwigs" also has the same sense to it. The first stanza of the poem again sets the scene of the poem where a man receives a gift from a woman. The 'story' then talks about what the man has done with the cake. These narrative poems are set-forth and are not open to interpretation. In Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz", the poem is open to interpretation by implying parental abuse, but not clearly stating it. Another difference between Carver and Roethke's style is that Roethke uses more imagery and Carver uses more metaphors. Most of Carver's metaphors include nature: "Some birds rose up from the gnarled trees" (Carver 32:4) is an example for this. The metaphors that the poet uses enable the reader to interpret the piece more poetically rather than it being too narrative. "The winter, grieving and dull" (Carver 1: 65) says Carver while he explains his house in front of the sea.
Poets usually differ in style but there is usually a connection between the themes. In this case one poet used lyrical form to express their ideas whereas the other used the narrative approach. Both the poets were able to convey their feelings to the reader in different ways. In the Ultramarine the reader was witnessing Carver's life through his poems that were like brief journal notes written poetically, decorated with figures of speech where as in Roethke's poem the reader waltzed through his pain through his use of metaphors and rhymes.
Works CitedCarver, Raymond. Ultra-Marine. New York: Random House, Inc., 1987.
Roethke, Theodore. "My Papa's Waltz". The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry. 1st ed. Ed. Jay Parini. Columbia University Press, 1995. 508