Beating: Musical or Physical

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Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz" struck me as having an ironic title that initially brings about nostalgic memories of family times, but in fact describes the daily beating of a small child. Disguised with the idea of "dancing with daddy" that is a fond memory of so many childhoods, Roethke relies on word choice and connotation to communicate the story of child abuse. The dancing makes the "small boy dizzy," but he hangs "on like death:" The kitchen pans are described as sliding from the shelves; this is not something that would happen if this waltz were truly a waltz. The father's hand is described as "battered" and holding the child's wrist, not his hand as would be expected in dancing. "You beat time on my head" is filled with the connotation of abuse, not happiness. Finally, the mother is expected to be rejoicing in this time of family bonding if it were truly a waltz, but Roethke's states "My mother's countenance/ Could not unfrown itself." In addition to the fact that this awful description of daily suffering is cached in the form of a bonding father and son activity, it is one of Roethke's few poems that does not incorporate nature. Roethke's is described as being "engaged in a lifetime love affair with the tiniest, most fragile inhabitants of the natural world" (Conarroe 4) and this is reflected in almost all of his poetry. "My Papa's Waltz" is one of the lone few that does not.

 

http://jerz.setonhill.edu/EL267/2009/03/poetry_selections_roethke_blog/

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