CRN #10170 6:10pm-8:50pm W
A Waltz in Time
It is a reserved estimate that two out of every five men in America who grew up with a dominant male influence during the early 1900’s experienced the misfortunes of reprimand. In the poem “My Papa’s Waltz”, written by Theodore Roethke in 1942, the author describes punishment he received from his father that leaves much to the imagination of the reader. Although Roethke makes no mention as to the cause of his punishment, any number of conclusions may be drawn. The focus of this piece of literature seems not to be in the cause, but in the voice that drives the reader through the author’s experience with his father. After World War One there was no such thing as Child Protective Services. Young boys aspired to be like their fathers. This was the American way. I can picture the dance between the father and the young boy as the author states, “Such waltzing was not easy (Roethke 4)” It is truly a dance when a father must discipline his son. Resistance is futile as the child squirms, and taking the punishment required much less energy in the long run. As the writer moves through the poem there is no mistaking the father wins the battle. And yet as I read the lines of the poem I can’t help to think the boy wins as well. Isn’t it the wish of every father to raise a boy who has good morals, a hard work ethic, and a stern hand?
While some may scoff at the thought of a whiskey-filled man punishing his son, this story leans far to the other side of abuse. It is the swift hand of an elder that keeps a young boy in line. I hear it in the author’s tone as he describes his memories from childhood. I feel as if he has respect for his father, that indeed he deserved the punishment he’d received. I sense the closeness of the boy to his father as the line from the poem reads; “The hand that held my wrist Was battered on one knuckle” (Roethke 9-10)). I am right there with the author as he struggles from his father’s grip, and more so as that vision of his father’s knuckle is imprinted in the now grown man’s memory. I imagine that hand being larger than life. The hand of a man the little boy loved with all his heart. This statement in the poem represents a hard working man’s hand, that of authority. I hear no complaint from the writer of injustice, but that of respect.
It is the last lines of the poem that truly touch my heart. “You beat time on my head With a palm caked hard by dirt, Then waltzed me off to bed Still clinging to your shirt” (Roethke 13-16). The