Theodore Roethke: Poems

"My Papa's Waltz"- Roethke's Mixed Feelings College

The poem "My Papa’s Waltz" by Theodore Roethke is a work rich in ambiguities, which are shown through the language used in the work as well as in the relationship between the speaker and his father. Readers can detect two sides to this poem. One side being a loving memory of the speaker’s father, and the other being a memory of a fearful encounter with the speaker’s father. Roethke takes the role of the speaker, looking back at a memory of his own childhood with his father. The poem, however, shows that it is neither one-sidedly loving or fearful, but a mixture of both, showing “Roethke’s ambivalent feelings toward his father, Otto Roethke, whose ‘strength was…a source of both admiration and fear, of comfort and restriction’” (McKenna)

At first glance, the reader gets the impression that the poem will likely be a cheerful poem about a loving relationship between a father and son. However, once one reads through the poem, the reader may question the title, seeing some violent language throughout the piece and some confusing emotions. The use of the word “Papa” in the title suggests a loving tone of a son that holds his father very dear, and readers agree that there is a loving tone portrayed in the poem, with a few mixed in...

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