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"My Papa's Waltz"
Transcript of "My Papa's Waltz"
Born in 1908 in Saginaw, Michigan
Graduated from the University of Michigan in 1929
Taught at several universities, including Lafayette and Penn State
Influenced by the works of Wordsworth, Emerson, Thoreau & Whitman, to name a few
Died in 1963. He was 55 years old
"My Papa's Waltz"
Fond memory or tale of abuse?
Some people have read Roethke's poem as nothing more than a fond memory of a son and father making a mess of the kitchen and annoying mom
However, others see the poem as something much more sinister. The father in the poem is viewed as an abusive alcoholic.
A fond memory....
Tale of abuse
One source claims that the poem is about a fond memory:
"As for the belt buckle, I remember my own childhood, dancing with my father: in my
socks, I would stand on the tops of his feet, and he would dance me awkwardly around the room while I clung to his hands or held fistfuls of the back of his shirt. I saw several students nod as if they too remembered such dancing. In such a posture, I suggested, the boy’s head would be at
his father’s waist-level, so that whenever his father “missed” a step or lost his balance, the boy’s “right ear scraped a buckle” on the father’s belt."
"Most notably, the third line of the poem, “But I hung on like death,” had always troubled me as an oddly negative description in what otherwise seemed to me to be a poem about a positive memory. Considering the abuse reading of this poem raised interesting issues that complicated
my understanding of it. Just as I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of a rough worker waltzing, I was interested in the violence that I thought my students very astutely pointed out throughout the