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Critical Analysis of The Poem “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke

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The poem “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke is a somewhat polarizing poem about the relationship between a father and his son. The poem is polarizing because of the language used and how one can draw very different interpretations of this brief poem. The relationship can either be viewed as one of love or one of abuse between the boy and his father. Roethke deliberately ensures that neither is clear in the use of his language. I believe the relationship was written with a child’s innocence and a genuine appreciation of the interaction. “The whiskey on your breath/can make a small boy dizzy” in lines 1-2 usually indicates signs of alcoholism but that is due to the prejudice that society has placed on consumption of alcohol. It is interesting to note that as the comedian Gabriel Iglesias had pointed out, wine does not suffer the same judgement as it is more socially acceptable. One cannot assume that the mention of whiskey means the father is drunk or that he is a heavy drinker. Also, note that this poem was written in the mid-late 20th century during a time when alcohol use was not so greatly frowned upon. Comment by Claire Berger: Unnecessary – redundant – —father and son because — Comment by Claire Berger: Needless repetition Comment by Claire Berger: Start a new paragraph here where you begin your argument. Also, please note that your intro needs a “hook,” Take a look at the student samples on our website and our text. Try for snapshots or an anecdote or rhetorical questions.

“We romped until the pans/slid from the kitchen shelf/My mother’s countenance/Could not unfrown itself” in lines 5-8 seems to show a scene of utter chaos. In a world now where parenting has now been subjected to more rigorous and unrealistic scrutiny; unrestrained play such as this will be viewed as problematic. Roethke continue to lead down this path in lines 9-12 – “The hand that held my wrist/Was battered on one knuckle/At every step you missed/My right ear scraped a buckle”. This is further debatable imagery as Roethke begins to set the tone for what would seem to be physical abuse. This culminates in lines 13-16 when he 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. The words ‘battered’, ‘scraped’, and ‘beat’ are words that trigger themes of violence and abuse in adults but in the minds of innocent children, the words are used simply for their meaning. It is debatable that in this century when there are less blue collar workers and the now stigma attached to these jobs that a lot of people would have a hard time recognizing the afflictions of manual labor. Roethke’s father was a gardener that owned a greenhouse and so the battered knuckle and the palm caked by dirt should come as no surprise. Comment by Claire Berger: Continues with the same type of imagery Comment by Claire Berger: How do you know that? Comment by Claire Berger: Again – a leap to judgement Comment by Claire Berger: Good argument – one I have also read online.

“My Papa’s Waltz” can only be read the way through the eyes of a child for it’s true meaning to be recognized. The reader will need to remove the societal pressure that insists that we are only good parents if we are perfect parents, remove all the biases and afflictions that have been cultivated from adolescence to adulthood, and take on the persona of a child. If one insists on reading it through the eyes of a polluted adult – the entire theme of the poem will become debatable and lost in translation. Comment by Claire Berger: You offer no real substantiated evidence to prove this claim. You need to site your source. Comment by Claire Berger: This last paragraph – though written well – does not have enough connection to the body of the essay.

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Works Cited

  1. Roethke, Theodore. “My Papa’s Waltz.” Reading Literature and Writing Argument. Ed.
  2. Missy James, et al. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2015
  3. ‘Theodore Roethke.’ Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2019. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/theodore-roethke
  4. “Theodore Roethke.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, n.d. Web 12 Feb 2019 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Roethke

Kelly,

You do make a point concerning a child’s point of view as opposed to a child’s but it is not as solid as it should be. In fact, how can we consider the child’s point of view without testimony?

I do understand the cultural point of view and that is where you could have focused, but it would have taken more research – not just reading critics ‘points of view. What probably would have been the best avenue to take is to analyze the poem by examining the images and choice of word and taking a position or illustrating the point that either position could be taken. Note other comments regarding the actual writing (composition).

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Critical Analysis of The Poem “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-the-poem-my-papas-waltz-by-theodore-roethke/
“Critical Analysis of The Poem “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-the-poem-my-papas-waltz-by-theodore-roethke/
Critical Analysis of The Poem “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-the-poem-my-papas-waltz-by-theodore-roethke/> [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].
Critical Analysis of The Poem “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 12 [cited 2022 Dec 8]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/critical-analysis-of-the-poem-my-papas-waltz-by-theodore-roethke/
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