The Waltz By Roethke Analysis

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On the surface, this poem seems to be about two people (a father and child) dancing a clumsy version of a waltz; however, upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that the poem is actually an extended metaphor comparing domestic abuse to what is usually a beautifully graceful dance. The brilliance of this poem is in the irony that the metaphor presents: the horror of abuse to the beauty of the waltz.

What makes this metaphor most apparent is the diction. While Roethke incorporates words like “waltzing” (l.4), “romped” (l.5), and “beat time” (l.13), all words associated with jubilant dancing, other words and phrases indicate quite the opposite of jubilance. For example, in the final stanza, Roethke writes, “You beat time on my head / With a palm caked hard by dirt, / Then waltzed me off to bed / Still clinging to your shirt.” From these words, the reader can easily imagine a man who has come home drunk and has begun beating his child...again. The child is kicking and screaming in a futile effort to escape his father’s clutches while being roughly escorted to his room and thrown into his bed.
In terms of the syntax of the piece, Roethke makes use of occasional word inversion to assist in maintaining a
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It seems that most readers assume that the established persona is that of the poet himself / herself, likely because poetry is so deeply personal. In the case of “My Papa’s Waltz”, the reader can make an assumption that the voice of the poem is Theodore Roethke’s, but not definitively. Only upon researching the poet can the reader come to a more definitive conclusion. According to Joseph Schaub, Roethke regarded his own father with a mixture of love and fear. He goes on to say, “The father figure in his poetry, then, is often one of awesome, godlike power.” This information helps the reader understand the poem from the very real perspective of an abused
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