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The authors childhood memory in my papas waltz by theodore rothke

Outwardly, it is a simple poem: A German immigrant who ran a successful floral business, Otto Roethke was a demanding parent who required perfection of the son who idolized him. When the elder Roethke died of cancer when his son was in high school, the boy appears to have been left with many unresolved and conflicting emotions about his father.

In the poem, the father appears as a god-like giant to his son. While such a figure has its comic aspects, it has a threatening side as well. The mother looks on with disapproval. We get no sense, though, that the boy sides with his mother. These details suggest that he earns his living by physical labor and therefore may be forgiven if he escapes for a while from the hardness of his life through drinking and horseplay.

When he was a child his parents owned a large floral and produce business, and the young Roethke spent much time in the greenhouses among the plants, an environment which would greatly influence his early work.

Already Roethke had ambitions of becoming a writer, but a writer of prose, not poetry. When Roethke was in his second year of high school, his father died of cancer, forcing Roethke, the eldest child, to become head of the household. Roethke graduated from high school in 1925 and wanted to apply to Harvard, but his mother persuaded him to stay closer to the family and attend the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

My Papa's Waltz

In college Roethke concentrated on literature and language, and began to train himself to become a writer. In the fall of 1930 Roethke headed east to further his education at Harvard Graduate School; however, the Great Depression interrupted his education, forcing him to withdraw from school and find a job before he could earn his doctorate. Roethke began teaching at Lafayette University and later Michigan State College, where students found him to be a superb teacher.

Unfortunately, in November of 1935 Roethke suffered a mental breakdown, the first of a number of recurring spells of mental illness which he would endure throughout his life. Upon recovering he accepted a job at Pennsylvania State University and published his first book of verse, Open House 1941. Moving on to Bennington College in Vermont, Roethke continued to produce poetry and became well known in the literary community.

Roethke accepted a teaching position at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1947, and around this time he began to receive recognition for his work, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1954 for his collection The Waking, Poems: On the first of August, 1963 Roethke suffered a coronary occlusion and died a short time later; he was buried in Oak-wood Cemetery in Saginaw next to his mother and father.

This observation implies that the father had consumed a substantial amount of whiskey, since the smell of it was very potent. These lines also establish a closeness between the two figures. The poem is a direct address from the son to the father, evoking a feeling of intimacy between them. Line 3 The sense of closeness is further emphasized in this line.

Here it is physical closeness, as the child is said to have clutched onto his father. The figure is derived from a personification of death as someone who, once he has grasped onto a person, never lets go. The situation here, then, is quite complex.

On the one hand, the boy was afraid of letting go of his father, perhaps fearing he would be hurt by his drunken careening. Or perhaps he feared being separated from his father emotionally. The dance thus serves as a metaphor for the overall relationship between father and son: This is the initial indication that the father and son were dancing.

The waltz is a simple dance, not difficult to perform. In this line, though, we are told that waltzing with the father was, paradoxically, difficult. What should have been easy was hard. This picture of a small boy trying to match steps with his drunken father is lightly comic.

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Lines 5-6 These two lines reveal the boisterousness of the dancing, which seems at odds with the grace of a waltz. She did not engage in the dancing, and her frowning face indicates that was displeased by it. In a synecdoche, the essential aspects of the part is used to characterize the whole. In these lines, the essential aspect of the face is a frown, which characterizes the mother very negatively. A further effect of the synecdoche is to depersonalize the mother: Both figures were injured, the father on his knuckle, the son on his ear.

These hurts introduce a note of pain. The insistent, Morse Code-like tapping seems intended to convey to the boy how the dance was supposed to go, not how it actually did go with its clumsiness and missed steps. The father-son relationship should have been smooth and easy but in reality was awkward and stumbling.

In the end, he simply found it difficult to let his father go. Jeffrey Norton Publishing, 1966. Roethke imparts his views on the sources and functions of poetry and his approach to writing. He reads to illustrate his belief in confessional poetry and discusses his life.

Set in his home. Untitled, 2 tapes, Seattle: University of Washington Health Science Auditorium, 1959. This distinction corresponds to a division between Theodore Roethke the objective observer of the past, the poet who records the experience and labels it gives it a titleand Theodore Roethke the child who subjectively experiences the dance and speaks to his still-living father.

The character in this monologue is an adult looking back at his childhood. What is his attitude toward this situation? What does he reveal about himself?

It suggests that the dancing was not an activity that was performed by or with the boy, but rather something done to him. Although the poem is told from the point of view of Roethke as a child, it is, significantly, told in the past tense. Through an imaginative use of memory the poet provides us with a dual perspective on the father. We see the awe-inspiring figure the child sees, but we also see the inebriated and rambunctious laborer that the adult observes.

We need not choose between the two views of the father, nor indeed should we attempt to. The poem is not simply about something that happened to a child, it is also about what happens when that event is remembered when the child is an adult. The past becomes part of the present in the process of recalling it. A waltz, like other dances, is a prescribed set of steps that organizes movements in time and in space, giving them order.

It was he who established the order of the household.

  • But if Roethke paid the piper and handsomely with the shorter poems, it was the long title poem which made people sit up and take notice;
  • This confusion also keeps the poem fresh and contributes to its continued life;
  • What does he reveal about himself?
  • The father-son relationship should have been smooth and easy but in reality was awkward and stumbling;
  • Both figures were injured, the father on his knuckle, the son on his ear.

The mother was a disapproving but, in the context of the poem, an inactive presence. The boy did all he could just to keep up: The fact that he missed steps suggests that he could not adhere to the order that he himself had instituted.

There is a sense in the poem that the waltz was not an isolated incident, that it was often repeated. One almost has the feeling that it was a daily pattern, a bedtime ritual.

Admiration or Abuse in “My Papa’s Waltz”

This means, then, that the disorderly dance was, paradoxically, itself a form of order, a regularly recurring event that established a routine in the household. The waltz in the title thus refers not to a dance as it commonly understood, but rather it refers to a regularly performed set of disorderly movements.

It was a unique sort of waltz, a unique sort of order that incorporated disorder. The words on each line generally alternate between unstressed and stressed syllables. A peace treaty is negotiated by American President Bill Clinton between Israelis and Palestinians in April, but breaks down within months as fighting resumes.

The cold war symbolically ends as the Berlin Wall is dismantled. Germany is reunited and the Soviet Union begins its dissolution into smaller entities—in many cases, according to their former ethnic status.

Apartheid, the practice of separating the races, is established by vote on May 26 in South Africa. A few years later, he is elected as president of South Africa. Jackson Pollock begins to paint with splashes of color and line, reducing painting to its basic formal elements. This trend in painting becomes to be known as Abstract Expressionism.

Forty years later, the compact disc begins another revolution in the industry, replacing vinyl records. Roethke varies this pattern considerably, however. Several lines have seven syllables rather than six, and in many places the iambic rhythm is disrupted. Line 14, for instance, has a very uneven pattern; only the last two syllables form an iamb: Irregularities often give a poem an informal, conversational feel.

The unsteadiness is also brought out by the seven-syllable lines. In many respects, the postwar world looked little like that of the prewar period. The war had brought devastation and death to millions of people around the world.

Racism, militarism, and ideologies such as fascism had been the causes of brutality and cruelty such as the world had never before witnessed. To many, life seemed absurd after the war; traditional religions and moral codes seemed inadequate to account for the horrors of the Holocaust and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

World capitals lay in ruins and once-dominant nations were exhausted. Many people—especially in countries such as Germany, with its record of Nazi atrocities—needed to come to terms with their past.

New national as well as individual identities had to be forged from the cultural ruins of the war. In America, which had largely escaped the devastation, this process of redefining oneself took several different forms.

My Papa’s Waltz

The postwar period in America saw the emergence of improvisation and experimentation in artistic pursuits such as Beat poetry, be-bop jazz, and Abstract Expressionist painting. Others in postwar America sought to reexamine the past and to recuperate what was valuable and worthy of preservation. Roethke displays affinities to both of these groups.

Throughout his career he employed traditional poetic forms from both the European and the American past, but he reinvented these forms rather than copied or imitated them. This particular experience, however, was more of the heart and the body than of the mind.