My Papa’s Waltz Tone


My Papa’s Waltz is a poem by Theodore Roethke. The poem is about a young boy waltzing with his father. The father is drunk and the son is scared, but he doesn’t want to stop dancing.

The poem has a light, playful tone at the beginning. However, as the poem progresses, the tone becomes more sinister. The father’s drunkenness is no longer funny, and the son’s fear is very real.

Despite the dark turn, the poem ends on a positive note. The son remembers the waltz fondly, even though it was scary at times. He looks back on it with happiness and love.

Roethke’s use of tone creates a complex and nuanced picture of a father-son relationship. The poem is both funny and sad, happy and scary. It captures the complicated reality of life with a drunk parent.

Childhood experiences appear to be the ones that are recalled most frequently throughout a person’s life. Almost everyone can recall some aspect of his or her childhood experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant. Theodore Roethke’s poem “My Papa’s Waltz” verifies this notion in several respects. The dance described in this poem depicts an encounter between father and child with more than just expected joyful, loving emotions between the two characters.

It is this poem’s use of tone that allows readers to see the situation from the child’s point of view, and ultimately makes the poem successful. Theodore Roethke was born in Saginaw, Michigan in 1908 (Bio). He was influenced greatly by his family and spent a lot of time with them on their farm (Cary 65). This is where he “gained an appreciation for nature that would be evident in his poetry” (Bio).

In addition to farming, his father owned a greenhouse, which is where Theodore worked as a teenager and young adult (Cary 65). Many believe that “My Papa’s Waltz” is based on Theodore’s interactions with his father while working in the greenhouse (Cary 65). However, Theodore never confirmed whether this was the case or not.

The poem is written in first person point of view, which allows readers to see the situation from the child’s perspective. It is also important to note that there is no specific age given for the child, which makes it relatable to people of all ages. The first stanza begins with “The whiskey on your breath” (Roethke 1), which gives the reader the first hint of tone.

The word “whiskey” is typically associated with drunkenness, which could be interpreted as meaning that the father has been drinking. This is backed up by the next line, which says that the “dance we danced was not easy” (Roethke 1). The father is stumbling and almost dropping the child, which would be difficult to do if he were not under the influence of alcohol.

The second stanza contains the lines “You beat time on my head” (Roethke 2) and “With a palm caked hard by dirt” (Roethke 2). These lines are important because they show that the father is not being gentle with the child. He is hitting him on the head and using a lot of force.

This could be interpreted as meaning that the father is angry, which would make sense if he has been drinking. The next two lines, “Then waltzed me off to bed / Still clinging to your shirt” (Roethke 2-3), show that the child is tired and wants to go to bed. However, the father does not want to stop dancing yet.

The third and final stanza contains the lines “My mother’s countenance / Could not unfrown itself” (Roethke 4). This suggests that the child’s mother is not happy with what is happening. She is probably worried about her son and does not like seeing him in this situation. The next two lines, “You might have been drunk, as I was, / But I loved that ragged waltz” (Roethke 4-5). This could be interpreted as meaning that the child does not mind that his father is drunk. He is still enjoying the dance and does not want it to end.

The poem ends with the line “We romped until the pans / Slid from the kitchen shelf” (Roethke 6). This shows that the child and his father are having so much fun that they are making a mess. The poem’s final image is of the two of them laughing and dancing together, despite the fact that the father is drunk.

The poem’s use of tone is what makes it successful. The first person point of view allows readers to see the situation from the child’s perspective. The use of words like “whiskey” and “dirt” in the first stanza gives readers a hint of the father’s drunkenness.

The second stanza shows that the father is not being gentle with the child, which suggests that he is angry. The third stanza contains the lines “My mother’s countenance / Could not unfrown itself,” which suggests that she is not happy with what is happening. However, the final two lines of the poem show that the child does not mind and is still enjoying the dance.

The poem’s use of tone allows readers to see the situation from the child’s perspective and understand his feelings. It is important to note that the poem does notjudge the father for his drunkenness. Instead, it shows that the child does not mind and is still able to enjoy the dance. This makes the poem relatable to people of all ages and helps it maintain its popularity.

Roethke’s tone in this work reflects the blended sentiments he felt as a grown man while looking back on this childhood trauma. The writer somewhat implies feelings of bitterness and reliance on his father with his statement, for example: “The whiskey on your breath/ Could make a little boy dizzy;” (Roethke 668). This passage establishes an ominous atmosphere for the remainder of the poem. By the first two lines, the reader can already see how this individual feels about his father’s alcoholism.

However, the poem takes a turn. In the following lines, Roethke begins to describe the physical waltz that he and his father shared. The actions that are described in these lines are harsh, yet there is a sense of playfulness and love between the two as well. This see-sawing of emotions continues throughout the entirety of “My Papa’s Waltz,” giving readers a confusing, but beautiful look into Theodore Roethke’s relationship with his father.

Theodore Roethke was an American poet who was born in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1908. He is known for his works that explore the natural world as well as the inner workings of the human psyche. His poem “My Papa’s Waltz” is a perfect example of his ability to take seemingly simple situations and turn them into complex works of art. In this poem, Roethke uses tone to explore the complicated emotions that he feels towards his father.

The thought of his father seems to have preceded Roethke’s poem, as it appears that he has employed the preceding element to display his hatred for his father. However, the poem’s final two lines reveal sentiments other than resentment: “Then danced me off to sleep / Still clutching your shirt” (Roethke 668). By stating that his father put him down for bed, Roethke implies a form of love. In the last line, he indicates caring sentiments by saying “still holding.”

The diction in these lines suggests that even though he may resent his father, he still loves him. Theodore Roethke’s poem My Papa’s Waltz is written with a tone of both resentment and love. The poem is written from the perspective of a young boy, recalling a time when he was waltzed around by his drunken father. The boy describes how his father would hold him “one-handed” (Roethke 668), and how his mother would “stand/ My head bumping against her breast” (668). He goes on to say how his father would “drip[] saliva down my cheek” (668) as they danced. From these images, it seems as if Roethke has a negative view of his father.

In conclusion, Theodore Roethke’s poem My Papa’s Waltz is written with a tone of both resentment and love. The poem is written from the perspective of a young boy, recalling a time when he was waltzed around by his drunken father. Even though the boy describes the event in a negative light, the last two lines suggest that there were also positive feelings involved.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.