My Papa’s Waltz. Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963). BACKGROUND ON THE POET. Born in Saginaw, Michigan, Roethke was the son of a greenhouse owner. Greenhouses figure prominently in the imagery of his poems .
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My Papa’s Waltz Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963)
BACKGROUND ON THE POET • Born in Saginaw, Michigan, Roethke was the son of a greenhouse owner. • Greenhouses figure prominently in the imagery of his poems. • He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Michigan in 1929, where he also earned an M.A. in 1936 after graduate study at Harvard. • He taught at several universities, coached two varsity tennis teams, and settled at the University of Washington in 1947. • Intensely introspective and demanding of himself, Roethke was renowned as a great teacher, though sometimes incapacitated by an on-going manic-depressive condition.
… • His collection The Waking: Poems 1933-1953, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954. • Other awards include Guggenheim Fellowships in 1945 and 1950, and a National Book Award and the Bollingen Prize in 1959 for Words for the Wind (1958).
Not about physical abuse!!! • Roethke had a deep, almost religious respect for his father. • This respect was religious (in a Christian sense) because Roethke had an admiration for his father’s ability, yet he was fearful of his strength. • According to Malkoff, Roethke once saw his father bring a couple of poachers to a halt with his rifle and then go and slap their faces for interrupting his work. • "Otto Roethke, a Prussian through and through, was strong and firm, but his strength was, for his son, a source of both admiration and fear, of comfort and restriction" (Malkoff 4).
… • This fear, combined with the love and awe-inspired dependency that a son has for his father, comes out clearly in the poem.
TITLE My Papa’s Waltz • Papa = Father • Waltz = dance
LINE 1 & 2 Playing around Violence The whiskey on your breathCould make a small boy dizzy; does not portray him as a stumbling drunk Young/literally small slant rhymes IRONY Emphasizes the irony of line 4. METER Speaker uses three-syllable and four-syllable patterns in the meter to emphasize the waltz: “The WHISkey on your BREATH / Could MAKE a small boy DIZzy.”
IRONY -Speaker’s father presents danger, he “hangs on” for dear life. The word death is thus ironic, it makes the danger of the situation clear. -The waltz should be easy, the speaker is just being swung around by his father. It isn’t easy because their lives together aren’t easy. LINE 3 & 4 not "waltzing" in the conventional sense; they are horse-playing But I hung on like death:Such waltzing was not easy. SIMILE He was having fun and did not want to fall off slant rhymes ALLITERATION Gentle sound of the repeated “w” contrasts with simile about death in line 3 and with the characterization of the waltz as “not easy.” The alliteration makes the waltz sound natural and tranquil. DICTION (words) More precise ways to describe the dance, a child would not use a more sophisticated vocabulary.
LINE 3 & 4 SYMBOL Someone must lead in a waltz- the father’s dominance over his child. It is not the fact that the child is being led, but instead the way the father is leading that makes the dance “not easy.” But I hung on like death:Such waltzing was not easy. SIMILE Introduces death to emphasize the danger of the situation or the darker side of the “waltz”. Gives the child a power outside of human agency, which is the only way to have power over the father. Death “hangs on” in the sense that it is permanent, and perhaps the child wants to freeze this moment for fear of what will happen if he or she lets go.
LINE 5 & 6 The word romped here is ironic because it makes the waltz sound carefree, yet the effect of this romping is to cause a violent, crashing disruption in their domestic world. We romped until the pans slid from the kitchen shelf; To play in a happy and noisy way slant rhymes
DICTION • Signal a change in the poem: countenance is an unusual word for facial expression, unfrownis a made-up word. • Her disapproval of this scene and her apparent inability to do anything about it except scowlintensify the danger of the situation. • There is an audience for the tragedy. LINE 7 & 8 Could stop frowning if she chose to – angry because her pots and pans were flying around, but was really trying not to laugh at the spectacle of father and son dancing together. My mother's countenanceCould not unfrown itself. ALLITERATION The sharp sound of the repeated “c” gives a hard edge to an otherwise graceful-sounding stanza. slant rhymes Brief description of the speaker’s mother is a warning, or signal of danger (like the same hard “c” in the parental command “careful!”)
LINE 9 & 10 Hand holding a wrist more aggressive and domineering than a hand holding a hand. 1. difference in size of their hands 2. child waltzes unwillingly The hand that held my wristWas battered on one knuckle; Connotes violence. Battered is different from milder words like wounded. The father seems potentially violent. Hand battered on one knuckle because of the hard work involved in running a greenhouse. ALLITERATION Gentle protective sound of “hand . . . held,” in sharp contrast with battered knuckle and scraped ear that dominate the imagery of this stanza.
LINE 11 & 12 At every step you missedMy right ear scraped a buckle. METER Second half of the poem does not precisely repeat the metrical pattern of the first half of the poem, suggests that the father misses some steps.
LINE 13 & 14 The word beat is rougher than kept (as in “kept time”), recalls the word battered of previous stanza. This hand is not only dirty but hard, more a club than a hand. You beat time on my headWith a palm caked hard by dirt, hard work involved in running a greenhouse. Meter Word harddisrupts the poem’s otherwise perfect meter. The speaker has tried to render (save) his father’s dance but his father’s drunken missteps make it impossible to do so.
LINE 15 & 16 SYMBOL Waltzed figuratively and literally, to bed. The poem indicates early on that the waltz is not easy, and yet it ends with the comfort and stability of bed. Then waltzed me off to bedStill clinging to your shirt. Second half of the poem (line 9-16) is generally tougher, with short, hard-sounding words and true end rhyme (e.g. dirt-shirt) There are no slant rhymes here; the structure is less relaxed, which leaves the reader feeling tense and uneasy. Breathless and happy after horsing around with his father, does not want to go to bed but desires to stay with him.
WORD CHOICE (DICTION) • Word order of the poem tends to move from light-hearted words (BEGINNING) to more ominousones (END) , the poem is too ambiguous to let us pass judgment so easily. • The overall effect is to sway the reader’s emotions violently, as in a drunken waltz.
TONE INNOCENT VS VIOLENT
THEME • Domestic violence • Family relationships • Love between father and child