Summary of Theodore Roethke's Poem 'My Papa's Waltz'

686 Words Jan 10th, 2018 3 Pages
While other readers, like John Ciardi, have found it to be a "poem of terror" (Fong 80), when one considers the original drafts, as John J. McKenna does, one sees a much less forbidding melodrama and a much more down-to-earth representation of home-life. This paper will show how Roethke's "Waltz" uses language, tone, and rhyme to convey, with childlike sensibility, a happy image of an energetic dance with one's father.
Roethke's corrections in the original draft seem to be geared towards removing any type of suggestive language or imagery that might rob the poem of its lightheartedness. In the original draft, the boy is a "girl" and the "mother's countenance / Could not 'unscrew' itself" (McKenna 35). Apparently the "sexual connotations" of the latter term were to be avoided and the closeness of a small, dizzy girl to "whiskey on your breath" was likely an unwanted image as well. By replacing the "girl" with a "boy," and changing "unscrew" to "unfrown," Roethke removed from the poem the two main potential obstacles: abusive, neglectful tone and sexual imagery. Carefully observing the suggestions associated to terms in the English language, Roethke sets the reader in front of a scene of rough-housing between father and son, with mother looking on disapprovingly (but comically) because their…
Open Document