September 22, 2014
Dancing in the Night
In one of the most ambiguous poems author Theodore Roethke is able to captivate readers with the distinctive use of several figurative devices. In “My Papa’s Waltz” readers could easily mistake this poem for a story about a child being abused by his alcoholic father. Theodore Roethke captivates an evening in the home of a hard working father who comes home from work and just wants to spend time with his son who he loves before he goes to bed. Theodore Roethke uses tone, personification, and metaphor to illustrate an innocent evening that a small child recalls when his father comes home from work. Although there seems to be many different interpretations of this poem the author use of figurative devices allows the readers to see how the narrator loves spending time with his father after he is away at work.
The use of tone that Theodore uses in “My Papa’s Waltz” allows to reader to be able to understand the innocence that is in the poem. He is able to appeal to the reader’s emotions by allowing the story to be told from a child’s standpoint. In Theodore’s poem the narrator states “But I hung on like death/ Such waltzing was not easy. (2-3)” at first when people first read this they associate death with something bad which can take away from the innocence of the narrator but as we continue to read we are able to understand and realize what he meant by those two lines. By the child hanging on to the father’s shirt like “death” shows the readers how much he loved his father. How the actual word death was not meant literally but shown as a metaphor to show how much he wanted to be close to his father. The innocent tone of this poem allows the reader to look at the poem differently and connect to the narrator because it is a child recalling his experience with his father.
As the poem continues the child continues recalls his father’s physical appearance. As the child is describing his father’s appearance the author uses imagery to give the readers a better understanding of what the child feels and sees. The narrator states “the hand that held my wrist/ was battered on one knuckle” (9-10). At first understanding the reader might thing that the father is holding on to the child in an abusive way, but with the word held he softens the statement. It gives the reader a better sense of understanding that he was not grabbing him and tugging him by his wrist but instead holding him. The child continues to show admiration for his father by seeing his father’s hard effort of keeping a roof over his head does. The vast use of imagery allows the readers to understand that evening that the child looked forward every night.
The author continued the use of imagery throughout the poem which allows the reader to fully feel and imagine what the evening with his father was like. Perhaps one of the strongest and most ambiguous lines in the poem is: “at every step you missed/ my right ear scraped a buckle” (11-12). These lines connect with the beginning of the poem which allows the reader to see that by him hanging on to his father he scraped his ear with every stepped that he missed. While many perceive these lines to be evidence of abuse the author used literal works to explain what was occurring