Virginia Community My Papa Waltz Poem Analysis Essay

  1. Read the following:
  2. Write a response to each of the following prompts about this essay, creating four separate sections:
    • Write the author’s argumentative thesis statement from this essay. What overall argument about the poem is the author making throughout this essay?
    • List the literary elements of a Close Reading that the author of the essay uses to support his thesis. If you need to review these, see the second link (“New Critical Approach”) in Step 3 of Assignment 3.4
    • Write the central “main idea” or “topic sentence” the author uses to support the thesis in each of the three paragraphs.
    • Copy and paste the sentence that you think is the conclusion.
    • MLA 8 Format: A Works Cited entry is not required for this assignment, and in the place of in text citations, refer to the origin of the quote as the “author.”
  • Poem:
  • Any interpretation of “My Papa’s Waltz” has to take into account the complexity of the
    speaker’s feelings that are brought about by his father’s waltz. A dance should bring two people
    closer together. The dance in this poem acts that way, yet the darker side of this waltz, which is a
    powerfully unsettling emotion under the surface of this poem, dominates the mood, and the love
    and intimacy of the dance do not make a strong impression on the reader.
    Theodore Roethke manipulates our emotional response to the poem through a number of
    literary conventions, some of which play on the conventions of a waltz. Waltzes are not
    technically difficult dances, and they are set to lighthearted, easily accessible music. It is a dance
    in which couples sway back and forth as they go round and round. Our emotions and sympathies
    do the same thing in this poem: The speaker carefully orders his images to juxtapose frightening
    images with comforting images. In the first stanza, for instance, the speaker begins with a
    frightening image: “The whiskey on your breath / Could make a small boy dizzy” (1–2). The
    second stanza begins with the words “We romped,” undercutting the serious tone of the first
    stanza, yet their romping has consequences that remind us again of the seriousness: Pans fall
    from the shelf, and the speaker’s mother frowns in disapproval. This pattern is repeated
    throughout the poem, and the waltz spins fast and out of control until we can only focus on a
    whirling sequence of disturbing emotions rather than a coherent overall feeling.
    Roethke uses meter and rhyme to underscore the fact that there is something “off” about
    this waltz. A waltz is a carefully ordered and technically precise musical form, and this poem
    mimics that form, but it also reveals moments of imperfection. Playing on the fact that a waltz is
    written in 3/4 time, Roethke gives each of his lines either six or seven syllables. Yet there is
    something lurching about the way he strings together these six and seven patterns: The pattern is
    not exact. Nor is the rhyme scheme exact: Slant rhymes like “dizzy”/”easy” (lines 2 and 4) and
    “pans”/”countenance” (5 and 7) demonstrate that something is out of place. The speaker makes
    note of “every step” his father “missed” (11), and we imagine that he wouldn’t make a good dance
    instructor, at least not when he has “whiskey on [his] breath” (1).
    We can only speculate as to whether the father in the poem would make a good worker,
    a good husband, or a good father. In the last case, the poem leads us subtly to a definite
    conclusion. While this is not a poem that screams, “I hate my papa; he was bad to me when I was
    young,” it is a poem that connotes physical control to the point of manipulation and even abuse
    on the father’s part. This waltz is dangerous, ultimately; its imagery contains a disapproving
    mother (lines 7 and 8), a battered knuckle (line 10), a buckle that repeatedly scrapes a young
    boy’s tender ear (12), and finally a dirt-caked hand that strikes the boy’s head repeatedly under
    the guise of keeping time for the waltz. The fact that the speaker says, “You beat time on my
    head” (14), instead of “kept time” reinforces this interpretation. The waltzing ritual is not about
    dancing; it is about a man who asserts and maintains physical control over his son even as he
    loses control over himself
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