Theodore Roethke, the American poet, composed this beautiful poem bearing the title, ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ in 1940s. This poem contains four stanzas depicting the playful relation between a drunken father and his son.
At the outset the poem may feel like captivating some innocent moments of childhood, but a deeper insight to the poem, would launch its readers to a greater realm. It definitely has enough clues to intimate the readers about a greater social issue of child abuse and alcoholism. A reading through the stanzas and an insight to look beyond the normal periphery of a poem captivating the compassion and teasing relation of a father and son evidently portrays ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ as propaganda with a serious social issue and vice of child abuse.
The four stanzas of the poem, ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ bear a playful relation of a father and son. But an in-depth study of the poem clearly indicates clues to the child abuse presented in the poem. A happy reminiscence of the childhood could have been a very effective theme of the poem but acquaintance with the other works of the poet would definitely instigate to give a second thought to the apparent meaning of the poem. The tone of the poem is melancholic and resentful indeed but the greatest irony of the poem lies in the fact that Waltz is a symbol of elegance and grace. Nevertheless, the entire episode of the poem is quite disgraceful as the father is drunk and is not in his senses while executing any of his gesture towards his son.
The smell of whiskey in the breath of the father is a clear hint of him being alcoholic. The smell is so strong that it makes the son dizzy as well. The lines “But I hung on like death: Such waltzing was not easy” is a clear indication of some uncomfortable occurrence. The second stanza of the poem indicates the helpless condition of the mother who is quite uncomfortable as well with the falling of the kitchen utensils which are again no sign of playful banter but are clear implication of addicted abuses. The third stanza of the poem indicates specific sign of physical abuse inflicted on the child by the drunken father. And the first line of the last stanza quite conform the abuse inflicted on the child: “You beat time on my head, With a palm caked hard by dirt” (Roethke, T. “My Papa’s Waltz”).
The poem, “My Papa’s Waltz”, bears a true mark of a typical modern poem, where the metaphor is implicit and the burning social issue is captivated within the bosom of the poem effectively.