“My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke can be interpreted differently according to the readers’ point of view. This poem may be a happy and slightly sarcastic dance between father and son, or it may contain a message about the father’s abuse, his alcoholism, and mother’s unhappiness. For instance, the poem begins with the words, “The whiskey on your breath Could make a small boy dizzy” (lines 1-2). Roethke creates a pleasant rhythm that makes the poem short and sweet. The rhyme further leads the reader to believe that the tone of the poem is light and playful. Nevertheless, this rhythm is deceiving; although the author loves his father unconditionally, this love masks specific family issues. The mother is undoubtedly unhappy with what is happening in the house – “My mother’s countenance Could not unfrown itself” (lines 7-8). Thus, the readers understand that the drunk father comes back home, starts to dance, and destroys everything around “The hand that held my wrist Was battered on one knuckle” (lines 9-10). Consequently, he is so drunk that he unintentionally may harm a boy while dancing – “You beat time on my head With palm caked hard of dirt” (lines 13-14).
To conclude, Theodore Roethke identifies severe problems in the family, veiling them with sarcasm and hilarious rhymes. Notably, it feels through the lines that mom is unhappy, but love for her husband does not allow her to stop this waltz. The son is just like a toy for a drunken father – “But I hung on like death: Such waltzing was not easy” (lines 3-4). The boy tries to hang out on him and keeps pace with the steps. It seems that the son, like his mother, loves his father madly; the boy is glad to spend time with him, even when the father is in such a deplorable state.
Roethke, Theodore. “My Papa’s Waltz.” 1961. Poetry Foundation, Web.