Roethke's Waltz or Abuse: "My Papa's Waltz"

Essay by JstMistUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, July 2005

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Roethke's Waltz or Abuse

Is Theordore Roethke's poem, "My Papa's Waltz," a description of playful roughhousing or an abusive situation between father and child? After reading and analyzing this work, I envision one of abuse.

Initially, the first two stanzas might possibly have been interpreted either way. The father and boy could be having fun when the author writes, "We romped until the pans slid from the kitchen shelf." (2640, 3) However, there exists a negative atmosphere. The father is drunk and the mother unhappy. Also, the boy didn't just hang on tight. He hangs on like death. Word choice is everything to a poet. The introduction of the atmosphere and use of language with a negative connotation leads me to the belief that something else exists behind these closed doors rather than a playful waltz.

Subsequently, after reading the third stanza, the picture becomes even clearer, and abuse is the only verdict I can render.

After all, why would his father's knuckle be battered, and why would the author choose to word it in such a way? His father's knuckle is bruised because he has hit something hard. Apparently, he attempts to hit the boy but because the father is too drunk and the child wouldn't be still, he misses. "At the every step you missed / my right ear scraped a buckle." (2640, 11-12) (Admittedly, I roughhoused with my father and brother as a child but without bruising our knuckles.) Again the key words "battered", "knuckle", "scraped", and "buckle" purposely conjure up the negative.

Next, the fourth stanza begins the same pattern. Abuse is clear. For instance, the words "beat", "head", and "palm" are used right after each other. Why not say tapped or patted? The reason for this is because he isn't tapped or patted.