Unconditional Love

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Unconditional Love

With jolting word choice and the effective application of imagery, the poem My Papa’s Waltz, written in 1948 by Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963), presents the speaker as a child who is trapped in a world tragically affected by alcoholism and physical abuse yet who relentlessly attempts to attain love and affection from his drunken and violent father. The whimsical lyrics prompt the reader to recognize that although this poem depicts the essence of a child, the implication of a life of patterned torture is in deep contrast to the reality of a carefree childhood. My Papa’s Waltz is written in quatrain form purposely echoing the sing song sound of idyllic childhood rhymes to contrast the meaning of the poem which illustrates a childhood experience with an alcoholic and abusive father who, despite the ongoing pain inflicted, is still loved unconditionally by his son. The speaker relates this experience in his childhood with his drunken father in an almost affectionate tone, yet with the distain of the alcoholism and violence soundly ringing through. He states, “The whiskey on your breath, Could make a small boy dizzy; But I hung on like death: Such waltzing was not easy,” (lines 1-4). The speaker’s tone reveals that although his father drinks to the point of his breath being intoxicating and that the situation is confusing to the lad, he still “hung on like death,” grappling with his hope that if he continued “the waltz” – the relationship with his father – that he would retain his father’s love. In the last line of the stanza, the speaker’s resolute determination of continuing with the difficult waltz lends credence to the optimism of his youth which is evident in his perseverance to experience the father-son relationship. The word choices throughout the poem, such as “death,” “battered,” “scraped,” and “beat” imply that the speaker’s childhood is certainly not a functional one and, moreover, is filled daily with the cruel interactions of...
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