Literature Analysis, Popular Analysis

My Papa’s Waltz

My Papa’s Waltz is a poem written by a significant American poet Theodor Roethke. The poem reflects his childhood memories concerning his father whom he loved and was afraid of at the same time. Roethke lost his father at the age of fifteen and this loss made a great influence on his own mental and physical health. That is why his poetry is often referred back to his childhood. In My Papa’s Waltz Theodor Roethke uses figurative language, imagery, and setting in order to reveal the father-son relationships.

My Papa’s Waltz analysis

The poem is a childhood memory of a grown man. Being a little boy, he remembers having fun with his father and dancing around the house. The events of the poem take place at home, as the narrator describes the setting: “We romped until the pans / Slid from the kitchen shelf;” and “Then waltzed me off to bed.” (Roethke, 2003) The setting was chosen not by an accident. The author decides to locate the actions at home, as it a special place for every person. Moreover, a house, where you grow up and spend your childhood surrounded by loving parents, imprints in the memory till kingdom come. The narrator does not give enough description of his house, all that is know is that it contains a kitchen and a bedroom. The deeper analysis and imagination paint it as a tiny little apartment with not so much space to “waltz” freely and, at the same time, a cozy and comfortable place, with the happy and loving atmosphere created by the members of the family.

My Papa’s Waltz imagery

The imagery plays a great role in creating portraits of the father. The narrator does not describe the appearance and character of his father directly. The image can be built with the help of small details, hints, and imagery that are present in the text. The olfactory imagery is present in the line: “The whisky on your breath”. (Roethke, 2003) It evokes a sense of smell and helps to indicate that the father was tipsy. And the fact that “it could make a small boy dizzy” means that actually, he was really drunk. (Roethke, 2003) The kinesthetic imagery appeals to the sense of touch: “The hand that held my wrist / Was battered on one knuckle” and “With a palm caked hard by dirt”. (Roethke, 2003) The description of a hand indicates the narrator’s father’s hard physical work.


What is the meaning of the poem My Papa’s Waltz?
There are several interpretations of the poem. One think that the father being drunk had a conflict with his son. Others think that the father has a physical attraction to his son. But the truest version is that the father being a bit drunk and happy to see his little boy starts to dance with them clumsily in the kitchen, as a joke.

What is really happening in My Papa’s Waltz?
Some people think that waltz is a metaphor of father beating his son. For us, it seems that the father and son were just having fun together, and pretended to dance.

When was My Papa’s Waltz published?
“My Papa’s Waltz” was published in 1942, then again in Roethke’s book The Lost Son and Other Poems.

What is the tone of My Papa’s Waltz?
The poetic tone in “My Papa’s Waltz” poem reflects the nuances of emotion that the boy narrator feels towards his father. The tone is playful.