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Reader's Reflection on My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke

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My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke was published in 1942. The poem has a simple rhyme scheme. At first read, it is easy to assume that this little boy is commenting on dancing around with his dad after his father has been drinking. However, depending on the reader, this poem can be seen as a metaphor for the boy being abused by his father. For instance, the word “Waltz” can be used as a symbol, perhaps it could be interchangeable with abuse. As you read you can see words and phrases that have a little bit of a violent feel to them, for example, one line says, “You beat time on my head/With a palm caked hard by dirt.” These two lines of the poem can be interpreted as a reference to an actual beating that the boy endured from his father (13-14).

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This poem can easily be seen as a conflict in itself because it can be read two different ways. Another line says, “My mother’s countenance/ Could not unfrown itself”(7-8). These two lines refer to his mother’s facial expression when the boy and his father are waltzing. She is frowning, which is an indication that she is not happy with whatever is transpiring between the two of them. As you read those lines it seems that the mother is just standing there watching what is happening to her little boy, and if the boy is being abused by his father, the mother does not do anything to stop it. This brings up a conflict all of its own.

It’s easy to argue that if she doesn’t like what is going on, then why doesn’t she do anything to stop it, but it is also easy to say maybe she is scared because this man has been drinking and making a lot of ruckus which can be dangerous. This danger is proven by the line that says, “At every step you missed/My right ear scraped a buckle”(11-12). By these lines, you can see that there is an element of violence in this so-called “waltz” between father and son. This poem is clearly about a little boy being abused by his father, who was a drunk, and the mother was too frightened to do anything about it. The father exhibits some form of dominance over the two of them. That explains why the mother never seems to do anything about it because maybe, she is worried if she does it will only get worse.

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Reader’s Reflection on My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 25, 2023, from
“Reader’s Reflection on My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
Reader’s Reflection on My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 May 2023].
Reader’s Reflection on My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 14 [cited 2023 May 25]. Available from:
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