My Papa's Waltz

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Tyler Evans Margo Williams English 113 September 22, 2011 Haunting Memories in Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” Theodore Roethke’s Poem “My Papa’s Waltz” is often viewed as a loving relationship between a father and son but when viewed in context it is actually describing the atrocious memories of the relationship the son recalls with his father. Bobby Fong of College Literature states in an article, “Despite its seeming lightness, "My Papa's Waltz" is a poem of terror, all the more terrible because the boy is frightened and hurt by the father, even in play.” (78) The poem begins with an image of a helpless child and a careless, drunken father playing crudely through a house. In the first stanza Roethke states, “The whiskey on your breath could make a small boy dizzy; But I hung on like death such waltzing was not easy. “ (1-4). When alcohol is thought of in a situation such in relation to a father and son, there is immediately a negative vibe. Alcohol is used as the image of violence in the poem and by mentioning the “whisky on your breathe” (1) one can see the image of the muddled expression on the child’s face. (78) The word “death” is used to give an ominous feeling of how the child hangs on to his intoxicated father even though he knows his father is not in the right state of mind. The second stanza mentions the helpless mother as she watches her child being almost abused. (78) The poet states, “We romped until the pans slid from the kitchen shelf, my mother’s countenance could not unfrown itself.” (5-8) The word “romped” (5) is cleverly used by Roethke because it gives a clear image of the father carelessly manhandling his son as the house is being wrecked. (78) The helpless mother watches in disapproval but does not retaliate because she is terrified by the father’s behavior. The mother is obviously petrified by the fathers actions because the poet

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