The Poem “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodor Roethke

Pages: 1
Words: 350

The poem My Papa’s Waltz touches on the intricate relationship between a child and a socially irresponsible father. It is difficult to say whether this work was written under the pressure of one’s negative memories or in impulses of inspiration. However, Theodor Roethke conveyed with precise accuracy the image of a lost child who, with the help of images and metaphors, tries to illustrate those wicked things that unfairly happen to his family.

From the first lines, it is clear that the boy’s father is a drunkard; the author speaks directly about his breath with a strong smell of whiskey. The writer gives everything that happens an allusion to a waltz, which can mean both a subconscious desire to veil the ongoing horror of domestic violence and the fight against it. The line “We romped until the pans slid from the kitchen shelf” may mean a dispute in front of the mother, who was very teary from her impotence in the situation (My Papa’s Waltz, n.d.). The words “At every step, you missed My right ear scraped the buckle” suggest that the beatings and bruises may be unfair retribution for the father’s mistakes, who can not uncover another place for his aggression (My Papa’s Waltz, n.d.). The poor state of the father can be affirmed by the portrayal of his hands as untidy, dirty, and rough, with knuckles knocked down in other conflicts. All words about the hands of the boy’s parents carry only a negative, dark meaning, forcing the reader to assume violence and physical threat.

The most heartbreaking part of the poem is in the last line. Despite many terrible things, the love of a child for a parent can be huge and unconditional. The last line, “Then waltzed me off to bed while still clinging to your shirt,” may indicate that the boy still held on desperately to his father even in moments of great grief and physical abuse (My Papa’s Waltz, n.d.). Waltz in this context can be perceived as a defensive reaction or a hopeless wish to keep an illusion of contact with the parent.


My Papa’s Waltz. (n.d). Poetry Foundation.