My Papa’s Waltz

My Papa’s Waltz

by Theodore Roethke

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

Summary of My Papa’s Waltz

  • Popularity of “My Papa’s Waltz”: Theodore Roethke, a famous American poet, has written this poem. It was first published in 1942. It is an extraordinary poem about the relationship between an aggressive father and an innocent son. However, its popularity lies in the fact that it comprises an infinite love of a son for his father.
  • “My Papa’s Waltz” As a Representative of Love: The poet has discussed two things in the poem. While love is a major representation showing a child’s love towards his father. However, many assume that it could be violence of aggressive father which is not confirmed. The poet also mentions a strong desire the boy has to spend time with his father. The father may be tired and perhaps hits the boy out of frustration. The readers must notice that the mother is not involved and maybe lacks the courage to speak or stays away because she knows the love between the father and son. Though this incident is happening during the night, the son desires to be with his father. Hence, he clings to him.
  • Major Themes in “My Papa’s Waltz”: Love is the major theme layered in this poem. The son remembers how he loved his father. The boy mentions that he managed to dance with him despite knowing that his father was drunk, frustrated. Also, during the waltz or after being hit, the boy observes the dirty palms of his father and understands that the father is not hitting him out of anger, perhaps due to their hard life or poverty. The mother, however, remains quiet. The core idea of the poem is true love and natural attachment of the son towards his father.

 Analysis of Literary Devices in “My Papa’s Waltz”

Literary devices are tools that enable the writers to present their ideas, emotions, and feelings and also help the readers understand those more profound meanings. Theodore has skillfully employed some literary devices in this poem to show the infinite love of a son for his father. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been listed below.

  • Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings different from literal Here, “dance” is the symbol of the eagerness of a child to be with his father and “buckle” is the symbol of violence.
  • Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /i/ in “Still clinging to your shirt”.
  • Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things with their five senses. Theodore has used imagery in this poem such as,But I hung on like death”, “Still clinging to your shirt” and “My right ear scraped a buckle” to show how the boy stayed with his father.
  • Enjambment: It is defined as thought in a verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. Such as:

“Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.”

  • Simile: There is only one simile used in this poem. It is used in the third line, “But I hung on like death.” The poet compares the child’s affection and interaction with death to show how desperate he is to spend time with his father.

A careful glimpse of literary analysis shows that these elements in the poem have brought richness and clarity to the poem despite leaving the theme inconclusive.

Analysis of Poetic Devices in “My Papa’s Waltz”

 Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  • Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are four stanzas in this poem; each consists of four lines.
  • Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here, each stanza is quatrain such as the first one and the second one.
  • Rhyme scheme: The rhyme scheme followed by the entire poem is ABAB.
  • End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. End rhyme occurs within the second and third lines and again within the second and fourth lines. The rhyming words are, “breath”, “death”, “dizzy” and “easy.”
  • Iambic Trimeter: It is a type of meter having three iambs per line. This poem is written in iambic trimeter such as, “The whiskey on your breath”.

 Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below can be used when talking about any personal experience of dancing with an intoxicated person.

“The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.”