My Papa S Waltz Essay
Everyone has a father and has their own personal feelings towards father figures due to personal experiences. It is easy to project those experiences onto Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” as it is about an adult son’s recollection of “waltzing” with his father as a young boy. Furthermore, because the speaker seems detached, readers’ objective interpretations of the poem vary. Some believe it to be a gleeful child memory, while others contend it to be a confession of childhood abuse. In retrospect, “My Papa’s Waltz” confirms both perspectives and reveals the speaker’s ambivalent emotions toward his father through poetic tone, form, and language.
Firstly, the poetic tone in “My Papa’s Waltz” is a perfect reflection of the nuances of emotion that the speaker feels towards his father. Generally readers either think the tone is either playful or resentful.In actuality, the poem consists of many more facets of tone. In life, growing up consists of realizing how our childhood experiences made impressions on us as adults. Since this is written in the persona of an adult, mature thoughts and feelings are displayed rather than childish ones. The biggest realization for the speaker is that he was abused as a child. This shows a mournful tone for his inner child for whom he feels sympathy for. As an adult, he holds a poignant tone that represents his disappointment for his father’s flagrant behavior.
Secondly, the most overt poetic form in “My Papa’s Waltz” is of sound: rhyme and rhythm, which can be misleading elements. Roethke created the pleasant rhythm of iambic trimeter which makes the poem sound short and sweet. The rhyme further trances the reader into believing that the tone of the poem is light and playful. However, this rhyme and rhythm is deceiving.
There is an implication that there is something not quite sound with this seemingly pleasant memory in the dissonant sounds. The rhyming scheme utilizes assonance in which the rhyming words are not completely identical such as “dizzy” and “easy” (Roethke 2,4). These slight imperfections reflect the speaker’s feelings towards his father. Although he has unconditional love for his father, that love cannot mask those imperfections. His father was a drunkard and perhaps because Roethke leads with this in the poem, the drunkenness is the reason for the abuse.
Thirdly, the poetic language in “My Papa’s Waltz” is so precise, that it can actually make for a more vexed debate on the meaning of the poem. Basically, it has controversial interpretations because words alone have different meanings. Starting with the title, “My Papa’s Waltz” discloses what the poem is about, a waltz, and with whom it is with, Papa. The waltz connotes an easiness and grace, and the word Papa is used which connotes an extreme closeness and admiration. Like the popular phrase goes, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” one should not judge this poem by it’s title. Although the title conveys lightness, the content draws darkness and perversion.
Within the poem, there are particular words and their denotation that are important to understand when making one’s own interpretation. “Romped” (5) is most well-known for describing child’s play or roughhousing; however, there is another meaning—coitus. This immediately takes the poem’s interpretations to completely different conclusions. Perhaps the speaker is remembering an incestual relationship or molestation. The mother’s position is depicted next: “My mother’s countenance/ Could not unfrown itself” (7-8). The writer unquestionably meant for “countenance” to mean her face, however, it also means support. Since this poem has so many probabilities of bad behavior, this word choice is questionable when interpreting the poem as a whole. Last is the word beat used in the line “You beat time on my head” (13). In context this seems witty, since the waltz of course has musical beats, however there is no definition in the verb form that would fit the context except for the violent form of the word. This would be the most explicit confession of abuse in the poem. These words mistakenly lead the reader to believe that the poem lighthearted, but this is an ignorant perception. Altogether, the speaker’s admiration is almost impossible to identify behind these two-toned words.
Another form of poetic language is metaphor which can be a useful tool in revealing the emotion in this poem, especially since it is difficult to detect. The only simile, a type of metaphor, in the poem evokes the most haunting notion with: “I hung on like death” (3). Basically, death is the only inevitable in life that one cannot evade—it clings to all. This introduces the reader to a darker ideology, further confirming that there is a poignant tone. In the scope of things, “My Papa’s Waltz” is a metaphor for the father-son relationship in the poem. The waltz represents the dance between love and resentment between the father and son.
In sum, one’s personal experiences with his or her father or father figures may sway them to interpret “My Papa’s Waltz” to be strictly a happy or traumatic memory. Just like many relationships, people may only see the good on the outside, however, the relationship may be broken on the inside. Each literary element helps to build the illusion that the memory is in admiration of the father, but seeing through that illusion allows the reader to see the abuse the speaker endured in his childhood.
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Mid-Term Paper: Intro. to Poetry. "My Papa's waltz" by Theodor Roethke. Written by: Lior Ashkenazy. To:Dr. Ruth Kolani.
In Theodor Roethke's "My Papa's waltz" the reader finds a horrid experiance, the beating of a child by his father, which is told in a way of a romantic and beutifull dance - the waltz. The feeling one get from reading this poem is that the narrator, at least at the time in which the poem is written, does not look at this experience as something bad. He tries to beutify the experience by making it a waltz. He also, by means of images and rythem, shows the conflict between the readers, or the way any other 'normal' man will look at this experiance, and how he sees it, or wants it to be seen ( although he does not show his father as completley innocent). It can also be looked upon as the Petty Herst syndrom - meaning having a 'reality' so intense and strong that one feels incapable of any other 'reality', fearing it can and will be worse.
The poem is built of four stanzas( quatrain ), each consisting of four lines. The rhyme scheme is, in the first stanza - abab, in the second - cdcd, in the third - efef, and in the fourth - ghgh. The meter is trecet iamb ( stressed unstressed - three times per line ).
The central image in the poem is the metaphor in which the beatings are described as a waltz. The poet is led around the house, dancing - not beaten around. Which is also brought throu by the meter - trecet iamb - the beat of the waltz, thus the main image is shown through the meter as well, giving the reader more of the feeling of a dance in contrast to the 'secondery images' which are more associated with the rough experiance of a beating. Given such parameters the poet installs some sort of relaxation in the reader ( maybe even in himself ), in order to make the subject - the beating - more readable, and lessening the effect of the drunkness and the beatings, making his father more human. By this dance metaphor the whole routine of the beating is messeged. The drunken father, his breath " Could make a small boy dizzy", yet the boy hangs " on like death". The word death is important, usualy the word death, in love poems, shows truthfullness and undesputable love, as in marrige one promises to love to death, to never leave even if what is left is just a memory - as happens in this poem. The boy will love his father to end; although, a great bitterness remains in the memory - the drunkness, failure ( "every step you missed"), and the beating deriving from these failure and drunkness. For each failure " My right ear scraped a buckle " - The boy is acused for his fathers failures. Another way in which the love to the father is shown is the way in which the father is described, by which the poet shows his love to the father, and his longing to him, is by calling him "Papa" - not father. This word is used, often, to fathers which with one has a special relationship, a certian love. The title in itself is misleading, reading "My Papa's waltz" one will expect to find a poem about a father, good and loving, dancing this gentle dance, not, in ones eye not the poet, a beating father, a monster.Together with all these is the description of the father as poor man, one to be mercied. He is, as we already seen, a failure, he is drunken, propably a lot, for his breath reeks with " whiskey ", he is dirty - his hands " caked hard by dirt " and are " battered on one knucle" , all in all a poor man that all will pity, someone who needs love.
Inspite of these showings of his father as a person that he loved, and still does, the poet uses the 'secondery images' - the images outside the main image - to show that the brutality existed. He does not lessen the impact of these beatings or thier brutality.The beatings was so hard that the " pans Slid from the kitchen shelf ", the beatings were hard on the poet - " Such waltzing was not easy " - and also made a change in the boys point of life. The poet tells that the father beats " time on my head ", meaning the beatings made his childhood go away, time ran faster for him, beating him as his father did, as if making him mature faster than others, but he does not accuse his father of that. One accusing finger does rise, and that is toward the mother, who " Could not unfrown " her " countenance ", as if the poet's mother does not react in order to maintain this or that frown that will leave her 'undignified', as if stopping his father from beating him is not of her duties - putting the blame away from his father.
Another explanation, farfetched as it may sound, is that of the Petty Herst syndrom. The meaning of this syndrom is that one may enter into a state of life,a 'reality', that no matter how brutal or harsh it may be, once it is in his mind as an absolute reality, this reality will look as the most suitable reality, escape is not needable, and even when the person leaves this reality it will still, in retrospective, be the best situation he was ever been. It is possible that the narrator in this poem is 'afflicted' by this syndrome. He defends his father because to him it seems that this is the reality he should be in. He describes the beatings as a waltz beacause he sees it as such.
Although the poem is narrated retrospectively, from a grown up man point of view, something remains, the poet does not hate his father for the beating, on the contrary, he shows us that the love to his father is not, and never was lost. And twice during the poem - he talks about " But I hung on " in the first stanza, and " Still clinging to your shirt." in the fourth stanza, which gives the feeling that he loved and stayed with his father during his childhood, and that he does that even now when his childhood is no longer with him.
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