Interpretation of Poem “My Papa’s Waltz” – Theodore Roethke
With the father being drunk, it is possible that he could be “happily using his son’s head for a drum” (Fong), but tapping it a bit too hard unnoticing the pain that it is causing the boy, leading the word to become “beat” instead of something more innocent like “kept”. A hard working father usually means a father that has a lot of love for his family, and if one interprets the poem as having violent undertones, this line would not fit as well. Roethke’s father also spent a lot of time in his greenhouses, that were later sold after an argument with Roethke’s uncle (McRoberts).
A boy indeed needs this kind of experience from his father for him to see not just the strong, matured, and responsible nature of his father.The poem does not explicitly state that the child is being beaten and physically hurt by the father. It is funny and sweet to be able to see a father out of his usual tough and matter of fact persona. It brings him closer to his children.
Blessing, Richard. “Theodore Roethke: A Celebration.” Tulane Studies in English, 1972.
Fong, Bobby. “Roethke’s ‘My Papa’s Waltz.’” College Literature, vol. 17, no. 1, February 1990.
McKenna, John J. “Roethke’s Revisions and the Tone of ‘My Papa’s Waltz.’” University of Nebraska at Omaha, vol. 11, no. 2, 1998, pp. 34-38.
McRoberts, Patrick. “Roethke, Theodore (1908-1963).” HistoryLink, Theodore. “My Papa’s Waltz.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Ed. Nina Baym. 8th ed. New York,: W.W. Norton, n.d. p. 2274. Print.