Creative Analysis: “My Papa’s Waltz: The Sequel” As reader-response critics have long noted, opening up discussions of a poem to accommodate multiple interpretations can reveal striking things about how individual readers’ assumptions and cultural positions affect their understanding of what they read. “My Papa’s Waltz: The Sequel,” a poem that expands Theodore Roethke’s poem, My Papa’s Waltz, better supports the original poem’s theme of mourning a beloved father as opposed to what some believe is the theme of child abuse. Poetry is made to express the feelings, thoughts, and emotions of the poet.
The reader however can interpret the poem in any way that they see fit. My Papa’s Waltz is made an intriguing poem, partly because of its ambiguity. It can be read as both a story of a child terrorized by an abusive father or a child having a playful romp with his lovingly drunk father. For some, My Papa’s Waltz, conjures up horrific pictures of a child involved in systemic child abuse. One could argue that this poem depicts a harsh father-son relationship and that the description of the dancing is violent. The father “beat time” on the child’s head and crashed around the room so much that “the pans slid from the kitchen shelf. The word “beat,” could be a clear indication of abuse, and the fact that the child is held still by a hand that is itself “battered” could strengthen the sense that manual violence is the subject of the poem. The combination of “whiskey” on a father’s breath, a frowning mother, and a little boy nearly “dizzy” with all the things whizzing by his head could lead to only one obvious conclusion; child abuse. Others perceive Roethke’s poem as a vivid image of a nighttime ritual that shows the connection between father and son. There is a hardworking man who danced awkwardly but enthusiastically, creating a moment of intimacy with his child.
A hard-working father comes home after a long day just in time for his son’s bedtime. He doesn’t even take time to clean up (he still has “a palm caked hard by dirt”) because he wants to spend their few minutes together doing something really fun. So, he dances his son around the little house. The word “romped” in the second stanza signifies that this was a positive, playful experience, since it implies the kind of wild abandon of activity that small children love. It’s nearly time for bed, and the father is doing everything to get the son riled up rather than calmed down for sleep.
In this manner the poem’s tone is one of fond recollection and that the speaker still remembers small details of this waltzing and that the he thoroughly enjoyed this dance. Theodore Roethke’s father died when the poet was only fourteen, and that loss appeared to impact much of Roethke’s later life as well as his writing. His mention of death seems to reflect his mournful state. In fact, similar lines in the first and last stanzas (“I hung on like death” and “still clinging to your shirt”) seems as if the father’s death is foreshadowed and that the son is unwilling to let the father go even decades later when Roethke writes the poem.
The writer of “My Papa’s Waltz: The Sequel,” uses the poem to expand on Roethke’s mournful thoughts of his father. “Your whiskey breath still fills the air, and your voice still lingers,” these are the mournful memories of a young man missing the times he shared with his lovingly drunk papa, not a child scared of a drunken father (1, 15). The child sadly recalls his father’s “battered” hands, caused “from too much time spent toiling in the earth” trying to support his family which proves this father loved his family and would not harm them (11, 12).
The child hears his mother “weeping at the kitchen table” with a heart as broken as his own, also lets the reader know that in no uncertain terms this man was loved by his family (7). The house is now a lonely sight; “memories are all that linger” shows there will be no more “waltzing” or memories made here because “death” is all that is left (16). In the current interpretation of My Papa’s Waltz we see a contrast between the contemporary readers’ objections responding within their own perceptions of proper parenting, and the author’s intention of honoring a more pleasant memory of an enjoyable incident with his father.
It takes a close reading and analysis of the poem as well as research into Roethke’s personal life to truly understand the meaning of this poem. “My Papa’s Waltz: The Sequel,” a poem that expands Theodore Roethke’s poem, My Papa’s Waltz, was written to support the originals poem’s theme of mourning and aide the reader in correctly interpreting Roethke’s message from his original works. Works Cited “My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke. ” PoemHunter. Com – Thousands of Poems and Poets.. Poetry Search Engine. Web. 31 Oct. 2011. ;http://www. oemhunter. com/poem/my papa-s-waltz/;. Pennington, Wendy J. “My Papa’s Waltz: The Sequel. ” Web. 31 Oct. 2011. “Poetry Explication. ” MU Personal Web Pages. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. ;http://faculty. millikin. edu/~moconner/e232/essay3. html;. “Theodore Roethke: “My Papa’s Waltz”” One Poet’s Notes. Web. 29 Oct. 2011. ;http://edwardbyrne. blogspot. com/2007/06/theodore-roethke-my-papas-waltz. html;. “Theodore Roethke. ” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 29 Oct. 2011. ;http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Theodore_Roethke;.