The Actual Meaning of "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke
Poetry is made to express the feelings, thoughts, and emotions of the poet. The reader can interpret the poem however they see fit. Critics are undecided about the theme of Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz." Some people believe that the poem is one of a happy exchange between a father and son. The more convincing interpretation is that it has a hidden message of parental abuse. Careful analysis of the keywords and each individual stanza back up this theory of child abuse by a violent and drunken father.
The word that is key to the poem is romp. Roethke states that "we romped until the pans / slid from the kitchen shelf" (5-6). The word is usually associated with happy, boisterous, and energetic running around or dancing. A second definition is rough, lively play. Alcohol would cause a person to act in such a harsh manner. In athletics, a romp is an easy victory over an easy opponent. This means one side is clearly superior and beats the competition with fury and ease. The father could be viewed as a dominating and overpowering force to a small child. The younger son could not possible fight back to his bigger father especially with the added influence of liquor. Further reading of the poem will back up that meaning of the poem is to illustrate parental abuse.
The first stanza sets the scene with clear imagery. The father appears to be in a heavily drunken state because the son can smell the "whiskey on your breath" (1). The reader knows the drinking is excessive because it almost made the boy dizzy. Clearly, the father is in a heavenly drunken state because someone else is feeling the effects of his drinking. Critics will ague that the son was enjoying himself. This does not appear to be so because the waltz is not easy for him. Later in that stanza he states that he "hung on like death" (3). Most people would not associate a joyous event and death. For instance, when someone is on a roller coaster, they hang on tight out of fear. The second stanza gives the details of how the father was knocking over pans and shelves. No fun event would require continuous destruction to the house. The reader also sees the mother in a seemingly helpless state as the father continues to damage the house. She...