My Papa’s Waltz – Theodore Roethke – Comments

My Papa’s Waltz

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head   
With a palm caked hard by dirt,  
Then waltzed me off to bed  
Still clinging to your shirt.

Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963)

An episode between father and son when Theodore was a child. And you can always value the words from a poet when involving family in their work. Clearly his father was an alcoholic and his mother not improving on his resultant behavior and the impact on her kitchen domain. But the above words give only a limited insight into his character. And interesting Theodore Roethke said this about his father – ‘a great story could be written about my father, for in many ways he was truly a great man. I have never found anyone remotely like him in life or literature’.

I remember the words my father used to say – if you can’t be good be careful. I used to like these words because it gave acceptance to my non good behavior. There is another interpretation in that careful is care full and of course I try to be full of care as I react with people and life. Independent of the fact I don’t want to be had up for speeding. I am actually very good when driving especially if I have my partner at my side.

The father-son relationship is the foundation in the growth of any boy. The effect on the future life of the son is another matter. The new generation is always in conflict in some way with the old. I remember a Cat Stevenssong in relation to the differences in thought for those that can remember Cat Stevens.

There are plenty of poems in similar vein where the father-son relationship is articulated. Seamus Heaney has poems in relation to both his father and mother.

From a poetry point of perspective a lot of thought has gone into this simple story poem. The end rhyme words in the second and final lines of each stanza are well chosen. And there is a subtle stumbling effect in the sound of dizzy and easy as the small boy is twirled around in the first stanza.

Here is a link to a very personal poem from Seamus Heaney in relation to his mother.

Theodore Roethke on Wikipedia

One thought on “My Papa’s Waltz – Theodore Roethke – Comments

Your word in my ear ...

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