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Tim Culhane


“My Papa’s Waltz”

Throughout the poem, “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke, many techniques are used to show that there are furious conflicts between a father and his son. Roethke uses the word waltz in the title to relate to the beating of the son. I believe that the poem is altogether a negative poem, as described by the words and phrases the author uses.

To begin, the author immediately states that the father is a drunk. Roethke says, “The whiskey on your breath / Could make a small boy dizzy”. The boy knows his father is drunk, and therefore knows he will be beaten. Since the boy realizes that he will be beaten, it shows that he has encountered this before. The beating of the little boy adds to the negativity of the depressing and lonely poem.

Furthermore, the fact that the father is drunk continues to show throughout the poem. While there are many negative ideas in the poem, the next is when Roethke states, “At every step you missed / My right ear scraped a buckle”. This in fact shows that the little boy is being drug around by the drunken father. In this particular instance the boy is being hauled around, but the author compares it to a dance when you would “miss a step” and stumble. Roethke then states, “You beat time on my head”, as if he were keeping time for a dance or a rhythm on the boys head. This all enlarges the negativity and sadness of the poem. The small boy also states, “But I hung on like death”. This proves that the boy was thinking about death, but dangling on to prevent it. During this whole incident the boy’s mother sits and watches as the abuse continues.

Furthermore, the mother’s apathy towards the battering of her son is even more depressing and negative. The author says, “My mother’s countenance / Could not unfrown itself”. This suggests that the mother has adapted to her husband’s abusive behavior and has therefore decided to ignore them. This again increases the sorrow throughout the story.

On the other hand, the opposing side may view the poem differently. Some people may believe that the father is not abusive, but is just having fun. They may also believe that the father and son are actually dancing together and having a good time. Moreover, that the father and son are actually bonding together and there is no mistreatment occurring to the little boy. However, through the poems words and phrases there is clear evidence that the father is abusive and they are not having a good time. For example, when he states, “You beat time on my head”, no matter how much fun they are having, a father is not going to beat his son on the head. Also when Roethke says, “I hung on like death” it clearly proves that the boy is scared for his life, and he is being mistreated.

Many actions take place that causes this poem to become sad and negative. All of these actions cause hurt and grief in the little boy’s life, and do in fact prove that the father was drunk and beat his small son while the mother stood nearby watching. Theodore Roethke’s poem is an emotional and negative one that portrays a father who is abusing his son.

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