Theodore Roethke, wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Waking (1953), which contains the tormented remembrance of dancing with his father in “My Papa’s Waltz”.
The remembrance of such a dance with his father is brilliantly detailed with fondness and mischievousness,
“We romped until the pans
Slid from the shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.” (Lines 5-8)
It seems that the child of this poem enjoyed the romping with his father. He was mischievously pleased that his mother was not happy about that dance and she came across as a woman who often had a scowl on her face. At the same time the tributary poem is laced with a small amount of bitterness towards his father.
“The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy:” (Lines 1-2)
The melancholy tone at the beginning of the poem sheds almost a negative light on the father. As the initial memory the child has of his father is the intense smell of whiskey on his breath. The child then shares his rather odd but heartfelt memories of his father’s overworked hands.
It’s easy for one, at first glance, to see this elegy as something negative, if the context of the prose is taken in the literal sense. Taken in to account the time, in terms of year, 1948, and looking at the words through the eyes of a child, you’d see a positive recollection of a child and his father. The interesting thing, to me, is that the author focuses on his father’s hands.
“The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;” (Lines 9-10)
“You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt.” (Lines 13-14)
The word used for the keeping of time, beat, is not a malicious type of beat. It comes across like a term of endearment that a father counting a Waltz 123-123-123, tapping gently on his son to soothe him to sleep. When the child is asleep, the father lovingly waltz’s him to bed. A loving tribute this poem is for a father that apparently had his vices, but loved his child enough to...