Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” is an incredibly powerful poem with intense imagery and metaphors. I believe it sheds light on what abuse may seem to be in a child’s perspective.
In the first verse the author starts out by introducing alcohol into the scenario: “The whiskey on your breath/Could make a small boy dizzy”. The reader should immediately assume that “papa” is under the influence of alcohol.
Initially, I believed that the child and his father were truly enjoying a “loose” dance together. I soon came to realize that the waltz was more than just a “dance” and that violence may have been involved.
In the second verse, the author writes: “But I hung on like death/Such waltzing was not easy”. The phrase “hung on like death” and “not easy” in the verse seemed to give off a negative connotation.
In the third line of this verse, the author shows a visual of the child’s mother witnessing the act of violence: “My mother’s countenance/Could not unfrown itself”. As soon as I read the next verse I was completely convinced that the child was helpless and being beaten by his father. It brought me back to a series of flashbacks of my mother reacting in that same helpless way when I was being abused as a child, as she watched it all happened from a distance.
The rest of the poem was all too clear to me, I felt like I was reading a chapter of my past. The poem was too relatable in a violent sense to simply be a picture of a child and father having a good time.
In the third verse, the author draws in literary devices that make the reader not only feel the actions that are taking place, but also visualize it. “The hand that held my wrist/Was battered on one knuckle/At every step you missed/My ear scraped a buckle”. As I read this line, I began to feel pressure on my wrists, as If they were being squeezed. I then remembered bumping into my father’s belt as he dragged and swung me across the room.
The last verse may bring confusion to some readers. “You beat...