“My Papas Waltz” by Theodore Roethke Poem Analysis
Many people can think back to certain time in their life when they have had a particularly happy memory with their parent(s)/guardian(s). These memories can bring extreme happiness and comfort to people. “My Papas Waltz” is a poem of a memory of a joyful time from when a boy was young. He is recalling back to the happy time he had with his father while he was taking him to bed. The poem “My Papas Waltz” by Theodore Roethke has multiple forms of imagery, symbolism, and it evokes positive emotions.
“My Papas Waltz” can be seen as a positive poem because the reader might suggest that the poem is about the narrator having a happy memory about him and Papa dancing together. When reading “My Papas Waltz” you can suggest it evokes happy emotion starting in the title, when the reader reads “Waltz” it gives them a joyful visual image that the poem is about two people dancing . Dancing usually conveys a happy emotion, it can also show love and affection. When you dance with someone it happens to be with somebody you love or as well dancing is a symbol of a celebration. The word “waltz” can also be the symbol to the interaction of Papa and the speaker, it can share their relationship and how much they love each other that the speaker will always remember this moment they shared to “waltz”. In this case the word “waltz” could be giving the reader a visual image of them dancing, but due to papa being under the influence , it could also be the stumbling of Papa feeling like a waltz to the speaker while papa was actually taking him to bed after getting home from just a long day of work and a night out with friends.The poem can can convey a loving and caring emotion because although Papa is under the influence, he is still making sure to bring his son to bed right after a long day. It is showing that he is still caring and loving even when he is intoxicated. In the beginning of the poem the narrator starts off with “The whiskey on your breath/Could make a small boy dizzy;” (l. 1-2). The narrator is giving an olfactory image to the reader of how Papa smelled that specific day, this can show how much this day actually means to the speaker since he knows every detail about Papa including the smell of his breath. It can also show how much the speaker means to Papa since right when Papa got home he went straight to see his son and “waltzed” around with him regardless of his long day.
After Robethke states, “But i hung on like death:/Such waltzing was not easy.” (l. 3-4) Robethke gives the reader this visual image that papa is having trouble taking the child to bed, the speaker is comparing the walk to the bed as a waltz. This verse can also give off a tactile image due to Theodore explaining how he “hung on like death” the reader can suppose that the narrator is hanging on tight that it felt like he was hanging on like death to Papa. This could also be the speakers way of telling us how much he loves Papa, him saying that he hung on like death can be referring he is hanging on like death because he loves Papa to death, Death can be a symbol of how he will never let him go and he will always love him. This can also symbolize how much he trusts Papa since he is holding him tight showing a strong sense of security. “ We romped until the pans/Slid from the kitchen shelf;”(l.5-6) the narrator gives off the joyful moments from them dancing around the kitchen, he uses a bit of exaggeration to show how much he was enjoying his time with his father after he just got home. He then mentions the mother to give the readers a more understandable feeling of how much they were enjoying their time making a mess in the kitchen regardless of the mother’s reaction, the speaker was just happy to be with his Papa.
Another tactile image would be “The hand that held my wrist/Was battered on one knuckle;” (l. 9-10) the reader can feel the touch that Papa is giving to the narrator’s hand which is holding on tight that it was causing him to be “battered” or injured while they are “dancing” this can also be another symbol for how much Papa cares for him. Papa holding the narrators wrist can symbolize how much Papa cares for the speaker hurting himself and he grabs him tighter just so he won’t fall. There is a saying that when you are having a good time that time goes by fast and that’s what the speaker is saying about papa in the beginning of the last stanza he mentions, “You beat time on my head” (l.13) when the narrator is with papa the time can potentially “fly” by for him. From how much he enjoys spending time with him the time will “beat his head”. The speaker can also be giving a auditory image to the reader since he did feel like Papa and him were waltzing around he can say that the beat time on his head was actually the music that he heard since that is how precious the moment was to him. Theodore also shows appreciation in his poem to his father by pointing, “With a palm caked hard by dirt,” (l.14) he learns to appreciate how much he’s done for him by showing his hard working father.
“ My Papas Waltz goes deep into feelings in general, it expresses how things can always go wrong but a bond is unbreakable just like the speakers and his Papa. Some people might view the poem as a negative thought of abuse since the author does mention some verses that can be seen as abusive. But even though when see it in that way it will still evoke positive emotion in the end because the author balances out the negative and positive thought to show imperfections and what the meaning of life really is. He demonstrates how life is not always perfect and although there may be off days and times were people can make mistakes, the love and care a person will have for another will always remain the same just like the son had for his father. The author uses this poem to show difficulties and that life isn’t always a bright light.
At the end of the poem Roethke finishes off in the last stanza by saying, “Then waltzed me off to bed/Still clinging to your shirt.” (l. 15-16) Roethke ending with Waltz finalizes the happy,caring and loving emotion that the visual and tactile image of the poem was Papa having too many drinks trying to take his son to bed but instead he was stumbling giving the narrator the feeling like he was dancing around and having a waltz with Papa. Regarding of Papa stumbling, making a mess, and hurting the speaker he still clinged to his shirt and enjoyed these moments with him dispite the difficulties and injuries he caused him, he made the positive look out of it and he loved his feeling stayed the same. The author ends the verse with “still clinging on your shirt.” (l. 16) showing how much he loves papa, “This small boys family has its frightening side but the last line suggest a boy is clinging to his father with persistent if also complicated love” (Kennedy and Gioia 668). Although the waltz may have been complicated the author still puts aside everything that happened and still shows the sense of security all the way to his bed room. He shows how he will never change his love for his papa and that the love is complicated but unbreakable.
In “My Papas Waltz” the speaker is giving a childhood memory he remembers about his father, he gives off a balance of positive and negative verses to show the readers what love really is. He uses different forms of imagery and symbolism to represent the poem more than is described as. Roethke’s poem is about complicated love, he includes how much his Papa is not the greatest man but he still loves him and nothing will every change that love he has for him.