Theodore Roethke - My Papa's Waltz

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 From My Papa's Waltz:

"The hand that held my wrist

Was battered on one knuckle;

At every step you missed

My right ear scraped a buckle" (Roethke 13).


"Then waltzed me off to bed

Still clinging to your shirt."


The child knows its father by him being drunk alot.  "the hand that held my wrist was battered on one knuckle" is talking about a father who works really hard and when he comes home he wants to dance with is child.  The child keeps hanging on although his breath is hard to stand. The child doesn't want to let go of its father because they don't want to lose their father.

The first time reading this poem I was thinking drunk father = abuse poem.  But after reading it and trying to understand one stanza at a time made me realize this is just a family poem.  It is sweet how the father waltzes with his child. 

Did anyone else think of it as an abuse poem at first? 


Jessica Bitar said:

When I first read the poem I thought of child abuse too. After reading the lines closer I found out that it could possibly be about a father and a son just having fun, no abuse. I haven't really decided on which interpretation is the "right" one. I'm still torn between abuse and love.

Taillur said:

I always thought the poem was about child abuse, but after reading it i realized that father and son could just be having fun. I think the reader is responsible for the meaning. It's up to how you approach the poem.

Jake said:

Same here, the first time I read this I thought of abuse and alcoholism. But, being a father myself, my son and I play and romp around like Roethke and his father. Also, looking into Roethke's life, he is actually quite fond of his father, and most people write about what they know/experience. Though I understand the abuse angle, I still feel like this has deeper meaning as we take his life into consideration.

bibi_boswell said:

Jake, you cannot look at the poet's life and decide that this is about his Roethke and his father, you are falling into the pit called the intentional fallacy.

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