Creative Analysis: “My Papa’s Waltz: The Sequel”
As reader-response critics have long noted, opening up discussions of a poem to accommodate multiple interpretations can reveal striking things about how individual readers’ assumptions and cultural positions affect their understanding of what they read. “My Papa’s Waltz: The Sequel,” a poem that expands Theodore Roethke’s poem, My Papa’s Waltz, better supports the original poem’s theme of mourning a beloved father as opposed to what some believe is the theme of child abuse. Poetry is made to express the feelings, thoughts, and emotions of the poet. The reader however can interpret the poem in any way that they see fit. My Papa's Waltz is made an intriguing poem, partly because of its ambiguity. It can be read as both a story of a child terrorized by an abusive father or a child having a playful romp with his lovingly drunk father. For some, My Papa’s Waltz, conjures up horrific pictures of a child involved in systemic child abuse. One could argue that this poem depicts a harsh father-son relationship and that the description of the dancing is violent. The father “beat time” on the child’s head and crashed around the room so much that “the pans slid from the kitchen shelf.” The word “beat,” could be a clear indication of abuse, and the fact that the child is held still by a hand that is itself “battered” could strengthen the sense that manual violence is the subject of the poem. The combination of “whiskey” on a father’s breath, a frowning mother, and a little boy nearly “dizzy” with all the things whizzing by his head could lead to only one obvious conclusion; child abuse. Others perceive Roethke’s poem as a vivid image of a nighttime ritual that shows the connection between father and son. There is a hardworking man who danced awkwardly but enthusiastically, creating a moment of intimacy with his child. A hard-working father comes home after a long day just in time for his son’s bedtime. He doesn’t even...
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