Theodore Roethke’s My Papa’s Waltz And Robert Hayden’s Those Winter Sundays

1705 words - 7 pages

Abuse is a difficult and sensitive subject that can have long lasting effects. These traumatic emotional effects are often intensified if the abuse happens at a young age because children do not understand why the abuse is happening or how to deal with it. There are many abuse programs set up to counter the severe effects which abuse can have. Even more, poets and writers all over the world contribute works that express the saddening events and force the public to realize it is much more real than the informative articles we read about. One such poem is Theodore Roethke’s My Papa’s Waltz which looks carefully through the eyes of a young boy into the household of an abusive father. Robert Hayden’s Those Winter Sundays is a similar poem from the perspective of a young adult reflecting back on the childhood relationship with his father and the abuse his father inflicted. These poems are important because they deal with the complex issues surrounding the subject of abuse and also show the different ways which children react to it. My Papa’s Waltz and Those Winter Sundays are similar poems because they use tone, imagery, and sounds and rhythms to create tension between the negative aspects of abuse and the boys own love and understanding for their father.

Roethke’s and Hayden’s poems use tone in the same way to show that both children ultimately love their fathers regardless of the abuse he commits. The young boy in My Papa’s Waltz is clearly very fond of his father even though his Papa abuses him. It is through the tone the young boy uses that Roethke shows how much he loves his father. This is first enforced when the boy says, “But I hung on like death: Such waltzing was not easy” (Roethke, 3-4). The boy loves his father and he hangs on to him like the one thing nobody can shake off, death. This is said in the first stanza and it is very serious. As the poem progresses, the boy’s tone becomes more playful which reinforces the serious statement about how much he cares for his father. The ‘waltz’ becomes less serious when he says, “We romped until the pans Slid from the kitchen shelf” (Roethke, 5). Using a word like romped is a deliberate attempt to make a serious event lighthearted and fun. The only reason a child would make this ‘waltz’ playful is because he wants to protect his father, whom he loves. As the last stanza explains, “You beat time on my head…Then waltzed me off to bed Still clinging to your shirt.” (Roethke, 13-16) Again, the abuse is compared to a waltz which makes it seem lighthearted. The boy is taking a serious affair and making it into a fun event. He uses this good-natured tone because he loves his father and wants to justify this serious affair.

Similarly, Hayden’s Those Winter Sundays starts with a young adult reflecting back on his childhood and remembering how hard his father worked. He thinks back and his tone is of admiration and respect. This is apparent when the young man reflects, “Sundays too my father got up...

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