Critical Essay On My Papa's Waltz

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The Point is Not Terror There is much debate on whether “My Papa’s Waltz,” written by Theodore Roethke in 1948, is a child screaming out in cries of abuse or a child remembering a moment with his father. The poem goes back and forth using both positive descriptive words, “then waltz me off to bed,” and abusive descriptive words, “but I hung on like death.” The speaker of this poem is the son as he is describing an evening playing with his father after a long day of work. There are several critics that take sides to this poem but one in particular took it to the extreme. Ciardi gives examples of how the line and word usage Roethke uses conveys to as abuse. In John Ciardi book, How does a Poem Mean published in 1956, takes the meaning of this poem to the severity by saying Roethke wrote this out of terror but Ciardi lacks to understand of Roethke’s childhood, different uses and metaphors, Roethke’s relationship with his father, Otto. In his book How a Poem Means, John Ciardi illustrates Roethke’s poem as terror and the boy in the poem is so fearful of his father and abuse he receives by him. He goes into more detail by taking specific scenes out of context and turning the words around to make them sound abusive: the house is shaking, the mother is frowning, the father’s hand is scarred by violence, every misstep in the dance scrapes the father’s belt buckle painfully across the boy’s ear, and the boy’s head is being pounded by the huge hard palm. He takes a very playful gesture as romp and describes it as the boy must cling like death until he is finally dumped into bed. Ciardi still continues on this terror theory but going into further detail about the poetic structure by stating that element the boy seems scared because there is no change either in tone or in attitude. Ciardi takes it to the extreme of this poem. Ciardi forgot to remember that there

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