Theodore Roethke: Poems

Memory in My Papa's Waltz College

“The whisky on your breath could make a small boy dizzy;”. This is how renowned poet Theodore Roethke (1908-1963) opened up his poem “My Papa’s Waltz”. A exuberant child, a mother whom is unamused, and a powerfully intoxicated father are just the three characters in this short poem from 1942. The emotions in this poem are nothing short of complex, touching on fear, admiration, and the longing for a young boy to truly know what it is like to be loved by his father. Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” is a brief, but impactful poem about a young boy’s relationship he has with his father.

The term ‘waltz’ is used in irony as the main concept for the poem. In dance, a waltz is a graceful and delicate movement of the body. The waltz Roethke describes is anything but that of a graceful and delicate movement. “We romped until the pans slid from the kitchen shelf;...At every step you missed, my right ear scraped a buckle.” Roethke describes the dance the young boy and his father are having. It is a dance of violent thrusts around the kitchen, a dance filled with emotion. “What was ‘fun’ for the father, however, was fearful for mother and children”. (Fong) Alcohol, for many, is a way to escape a harsh reality and enjoy their poor situation a...

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