fourth poem (finally!!)

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fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Ms.B on Mon May 25, 2009 5:33 pm

ok, the next one on the list is "My Papa's Waltz" written by Theodore Roethke in the 1940's.
This poem has various interpretations, so I want to say what YOU understand when you read the poem, and then comment on ONE line, phrase, or word (like last time).

Again, I want short posts for the first observation and encourage longer ones for the second entry. Once someone has commented on someone else's post, then you should not comment on it again, unless you are bringing in someone else's observation as well.

MY PAPA’S WALTZ

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  rapoch on Tue May 26, 2009 6:48 pm

Was battered on one knuckle"

I am struggling to understand this poem. I sometimes feel as if it is talking about an alcoholic papa, but then it sounds like it's just about a lovely father and his son sloppily waltzing. Take the above quote, for instance. Because Papa's knuckles are "battered", or bruised, one reaches the assumption that he has recently engaged in violent actions, and together with the reference to his drunkenness, we might assume he is a violent, alcoholic character. Conflictingly, there is only one sore joint, which might suggest it was not a consequence of aggressiveness, but a simple misfortune led by his careless dancing, similar to the pans that slid from the kitchen shelf.
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Milla on Tue May 26, 2009 9:17 pm

"but I hung on like death"

Two things caught my attention in this verse: first, the speaker refers to death, which is an inevitable and fearful happening, and second, the speaker replies he "hung on" to his father's breath, which suggests his uncomfortable position having to bear his father's alcoholism. By comparing his attempt to sustain his father's whisky breath to death, the speaker's suffering and fearfulness is aknowledged, since he demonstrates a need to bear his father's issue as he has to bear with death: he is forced due to its inevitability despite its dreadness.
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  ana on Wed May 27, 2009 4:19 pm

What I find very interesting in this poem is that though the title is "Papa's Waltz", the waltz being a formal dance, carefully timed, the dance actually happening is described as "romping" which is to "play energetically". This contributes to the understanding that the father is drunk. Yet, "romp" is an action usually related to children, which conveys the idea of a moment of closer relationship between father and son.
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Bia on Wed May 27, 2009 4:51 pm

"Still clinging to your shirt"
Even though some of us have said the poem can be interpreted in different ways ( I do not disagree), for me, the last line shows the love shared by the boy and his father. The way the son clings to his father's shirt shows his (the son's) desire to remain closely tight and not let go, and the fact that the father took him to bed, demonstrates his father's affection. On the other hand, since the boy is clinging to the shirt and not specifically to his father's body, other´s could interpret it as an unshared feeling; the boy is hanging on, but the father is not offering him his warm arms due to his wistful addiction to alcohol.
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Mai on Wed May 27, 2009 5:20 pm

The whiskey on your breath

It seems to me that this poem revolves around the frustrations of a young kid regarding his/her father's alcoholism. This feeling is evidenced by the way the speaker negatively describes "Pap's" breath and how it "could make a small boy dizzy", and how he hung to the moment "like death", meaning that it literally killed him inside to see such a thing. The pejorative tone, which is used throughout the entire poem, highlights the shame that the speaker has towards his father, and how uncomfortable he/she felt at the moment.
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  leitz on Wed May 27, 2009 7:00 pm

I'm not really sure what to make of this poem. I beleive that it could show the suffering and harsh life that the speaker went through as a child, but it could also be describing life and the hardships it bestows on one. When the author writes how the boy "hung on like death" he is demonstrating the work and hardships to hold onto life, while "romped" renforces this by showing how life threw everything it had at him, but he held on through the turbulences. Lastly one observes how even though the speaker "romped" and "hung on like death" he was dragged to bed, or died, showing the inevtable end of this struggle.

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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Luisa on Wed May 27, 2009 8:36 pm

What I understood from the poem is that it is a little boy's testimonial of his father's drunkness and how he has to deal with it. Through the expression "such waltzing was not easy" it can be noticed that the moment being described is not a playful and merry one between father and child but a situation where the little boy is obligated to cope with his father forcefully holding his wrists, beating time on his head with a dirty palm, his nauseating whisky breath and also his mother's stern disapproval of the entire situation. Besides this, the description of the waltzing as something not easy to be done reveals not only the physical difficulties faced by the little boy while attempting to accomplish it, or, while following his drunk father's steps, but also how difficult it was to see his father in such conditions and deal with it emotionally.
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Nabiyah on Wed May 27, 2009 9:39 pm

"My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself."

My understanding of this poem, was of a little boy narrating the experiences with a drunken father who beat him. The verses above demonstrate the anguish and the pain that were visible on the mother's expression. However, I noticed that the mother's reaction or participation towards the agressions to her son are not mentioned in the poem, suggesting that she could have maintained silent or implicit, instead of speaking up like a protective mother. Eventually, the "frowning" upon her "countenance could be for her vulnerability or feeblesness for not being able to help the child.
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Bibi on Thu May 28, 2009 12:49 pm

"My right ear scraped a buckle."

Like most of my fellas here, I am also unsure as to what exactly Theodore Roethke attempting to convey in this poem, simply because for the different moments I have looked at it, I have had opposite feelings towards the speaker and the "papa." When first reading this poem, this was the one line that really caught my attention (I am not certain why), given that it's the narrator trying to describe something that doesn't make much literal sense: an ear can't "scrape," or scratch / injure, a "buckle" as in a clasp, a belt. Nevertheless, if we are to understand that the child is having to deal with his father's drunkness and inaptitude to contain and handle responsability of himself, we can go back to what Raphael pointed out about "battered ... knuckle" and how the narrator seems to have been both emotionally and physically injured by his "papa's" actions. The line right before this one also expresses how it's his fault and the child actually blames his father, because for "every step YOU missed," "MY ear scraped a buckle."
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Oscar on Thu May 28, 2009 8:21 pm

"You beat time on my head"

As I read through this pom, this verse retained my attention since it seems to me that it is the verse in which the father's behavior toward his son is the most ambiguous and open to interpretation. The litteral meaning of the phrase "beating time" is quite appropriate to the waltz, which is a 3/4 time dance. However, in the context of the poem, the fact that the father is "beating time" on his son's head can have two contrasting meaning: "papa" could either be facetiously using his son's head to follow the waltz rythm, or he could be litterally "beating" his head, as the father is said to be drunk. That is the whole paradox of the poem: is jokingly dizzy or blindly brutal?


Last edited by Oscar on Fri May 29, 2009 8:10 am; edited 1 time in total
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Teixeira on Thu May 28, 2009 8:30 pm

What makes me feel somewhat intrigued towards analysing this poem is the various indications for different interpretations. Some verses such as "the whisky in your breath could make a small boy dizzy" and "hung on like death" indicates a negative portrayal of the father from the son's point of view. However, the whole image of a father coming home and waltzing with a son creates a completely different view towards the father's attitudes. Furthermore, the son's reaction expressed in the last verse, which is of "clinging to [the father's] shirt" demonstrates how he does'nt actually have a negative perspective of what happened or of his father, leading the poem to several interpretations regarding the son's opinions of his father. Just to make my opinion clear, I believe in the significance of how a poem is wrapped up, and this last scene indicates how the son has a positive view towards his "[His] Papa's waltz".

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Re: Fourth Poem!!!

Post  juracy on Fri May 29, 2009 8:40 am

In this poem the kid is beyond his father´s drunkness without noticing it. While they are dancing in a hapzard manner, hitting panners around the kitchen and "destroying" everything. The boy´s mother with a more detailed vision of what is happening sees the drunkness of the father, and is discontent. This can even show the poet reminding of something that really happened in his childhood.

farao jocolor geek king wu huuuuuuuuu

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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  ana on Fri May 29, 2009 7:31 pm

I think Oscar brought up a great point. The act of "beating time" on the son's head emphasizes the variety of possible interpretations. One can see the father as abusive or loving despite his drunkenness. The first time I read this poem, I really thought of it being abuse... maybe even sexual. But as I looked at the first responses, I went with the other interpretation of the drunk and loving father... though I honestly think its too obvious and also too contrasting with the bruised knuckles. I think that this is the beauty of the ambiguity. It cannot be affirmed with full certainty that this poem denounces an abuse during childhood, for the evidence for a father dancing with his son. Especially considering that this is the 40's, a time that did not allow all subjects to be openly discussed. I still tend towards the violent father, though.
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Milla on Sat May 30, 2009 1:26 pm

I have to agree with Ana that the poem refers to an abusive father especially because of the violent and aggressive dicion used. Even though the boy shows some level of maturity by recognizing his father's alcoholism, one must not forget that the son is just a child, and therefore innocent. The ambiguity of the poem can be related to the innocence the boy has towards his father's actions, the waltzing can be what the son recognizes as the father abusing or beating him in some way, especially because, as Ana said, the the waltz is refered to as energetic rather than calm and slow.
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Luisa on Sat May 30, 2009 6:58 pm

Everytime I'm done reading this poem a melancholic feeling consumes me, I think it comes from my interpretation of it as the child loving his father and yet having to deal with such a troubled parent. I've read the first stanza various times and I still can't determine whether he says "but i hung on like death" because he feels he must do it to please his father or because he really has no escape and is obligated to unvoluntarily deal with the entire situation. The last line "still clinging to your shirt" leads me to believe that he "dances" his father's waltz because his affection towards his father-as put by Bia when she said this line portrayed the boy's affection towards his father- is greater than the repulsion caused by his drunkness, "whisky breath". I just feel really sorry for the little boy everytime I read the poem, especially because since it was written by Roethke at an older age, it must have been a moment that really marked his childhood. Everytime I read it, an image of a small and caring boy who loves his father, even clings to him physically and calls him "papa" comes to my mind, and yet, at the same time, the idea of him having to cope, at such a young age, with his father's carelessness towards him, or, not have his affection towards his papa be reciprocoal just adds to a nostalgic and melancholic feeling.


Last edited by Luisa on Sun May 31, 2009 4:50 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  rapoch on Sat May 30, 2009 8:19 pm

In order to demonstrate that this poem does indeed possess two valid interpretations, as I previously stated in my first response, let's take a look at what Luisa wrote in her first entry. (Please re-read Luisa's first entry in order to fully comprehend the text below). Now, while my fellow classmate defends that the poem strictly deals with a boy having to endure his father's drunkenness, I'd like to play the devil's advocate by showing that the same evidence she presented us with can be viewed through a different perspective.

The first argument displayed in order to corroborate her view is that of the father's alcohol breath. Now, while that is indeed present in the poem, one cannot assume that such fact confirms that papa is an alcoholic and violent individual. Instead, he might have simply arrived from a party where he engaged in some social drinking. As we know, for one's breath to smell of whiskey, not much quantity of beverage is necessary. Twisted Evil

Next, the quote "such waltzing was not easy" does not serve as absolute proof that the moment being described is not a merry one. Take the verb "romped" for example. It means to play boisterously and thus, one might deem that the described event is indeed a playful and merry one. Therefore, what Roethke might be wanting to express is that due to the overexcitement of the father, he is waltzing rather sloppily, making it hard for the sober son to accompany him accurately in the dance.

Furthermore, the hand holding the wrist might be that of an overexcited, but slightly drunk father who cannot maintain his balance independently and thus relies on his son for some aid. drunken

Regarding the mother's frowning countenance, one might argue that it serves as a proof that there is no fatherly aggression directed at the son. The act of frowning signifies that the mother was feeling both displeasure or anger. These are not characteristics of a vulnerable and defenseless mother who cares about her son. If the poem was describing an act of aggression, a loving mother would most certainly not be frowning at the sight of her sibling being beaten, but instead would be crying, sobbing and asking for her husband to stop. How could a loving mother who sees her child being banged on the head, simply frown Question

Luisa's interpretation is valid and I totally agree with it. But, the above interpretation is also valid and I do agree with it as well. What I want to point out is that there is no absolute truth when it comes to this poem. affraid
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Luisa on Sat May 30, 2009 9:37 pm

Rapha, your counterarguments should totally be considered. I really don't know what exactly to make out of this poem, even though, as I posted in my second comment, it does make me feel somewhat nostalgic. By the way, adding to the different interpretation you shared, the mother's countenance that did not "unfrown itself" can also be a result from the pans that slid from the kitchen shelf, which makes it perfectly plausible for her to be showing her disapproval regarding the mess the father and the child were making. cheers
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Bia on Sun May 31, 2009 11:54 am

Mai, I do agree with you, that to a certain extent, the boy suffers because of his father's alcoholism. However in my opinion, the young boy doesn't really have the "capacity" to understand what his father has, because of his age and innocence. Therefore, for him, everything (in relation to his father's drunkness) seems like a "dream" or a dance. I also believe, that even though the father drinks, he has sincere feelings towards his son- this is another reason for the waltz "analogy" (let's say the feeling makes the message more poetic, just like the dance).
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  leitz on Sun May 31, 2009 12:11 pm

Changing my opinion from the first response, I partially agree with Bia's first comment when she states that the son feels affection for his father. The "hung on like death" that I interpreted as being negative earlier, I now believe shows the persistence in gaining recognition from his father, who despite having whiskey on his breath, still has his son's affection. The father makes the waltzing difficult with his drunkenness, missing steps, scratching and beating his son with out even noticing, but despite this, the boy, out of love for his father, "still clings on" as he is taken off to bed. The way the father treats the boy seems as if the latter were simply a stranger, simply danced with not caring about the consequences, so the son searches to gain recognition and love through his persistent love and attention.

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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Teixeira on Sun May 31, 2009 12:34 pm

I agree completely with Ana when she states that the ambiguity in this poem does not allow anything to be affirmed with certainty. Yet, for me, the last image has a lot of significance. The fact that the son is still clinging to the father's shirt demonstrates how whatever has happened is not considered a negative experience to the son. However, the negative incites such as holding on like death contradict this sensation that the last image creates. Therefore, what I believe is that, depending on what calls the attention of the reader, the interpretations vary. In my case, the last image was the one that gave me the whole feeling of the poem, while for other people the negative aspects are presented with more enphasis. This way, one can observe how the diction of this poem is essencial for the creation of a portrayal of what is being expressed by the author. Whatever words the reader choose to give enphasis are the ones to determine his feeling towards the poem as whole. Therefore, agreeing even more with Ana, this is the beauty of ambiguity. xD

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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Mai on Sun May 31, 2009 4:19 pm

One thing that we must notice is that no poem has a right or wrong interpretation, like Ms.B always told us, as long as we provide enough evidence, any kind of view can be extracted from any poem. So, Rapha, there is never an "absolute truth" when it comes to poetry. rabbit

I agree with Lu to an extent, I do believe one can see that the only reason why the little boy remained beside his father was his love for him. But, I don't see any evidence of that in the first stanza. To me, the tone that is established by the speaker in the first stanza is depreciation, because he "hung on like death", meaning that it wasn't a situation he was comfortable in being, he even says that "such waltzing was not easy", in an attempt to be ironic.
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Bibi on Sun May 31, 2009 8:49 pm

Hmmm... all your comments seem reasonable to me actually, given that (as we have concluded) this poem may have different interpretations though that doesn’t invalidate the author’s intent (ha! Raphael, Pedro and our debate all over again!). Nonetheless, in regards to Bia’s comments on how the speaker couldn’t understand his father’s drunkenness, Lu also agreed with this rhetoric, I would have to disagree to some extent. My argument for such positioning is that when he says that the whiskey on his father’s breath could “make a small boy dizzy” it seems to me like he understands a certain level of maturity and adultness he has acquired in spite of his experiences. If we all agree that the persona is a “small boy,” then when he says this situation could make such “dizzy” it’s as if he is stressing that he has now developed a sense that another “small boy” wouldn’t have (given that he is not dizzy, if anyone, it’s his father), differentiating the speaker from the others. Not only that but he is also underlining that he acknowledges having gained and learned from his familiarity with these “drinking too much” incidents – reiterating the idea that if he knows how to deal with it now, it’s because he has dealt with it before. An observation that comes back to what Nabiyah mentioned in her post that the mother seemed disengaged and impartial, “not speaking up,” suggesting that if her carelessness is so it might be due to the commonality of the situation.

Rapha, I think your counter-examples do make sense, though I must confess that I have a hard time seeing the “Papa” with anything other than angry eyes, for all the physical wounds he has evidently left his son with and the traumatizing scar that might have been marked his injured soul forever, mentioned by Lu.
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  Oscar on Mon Jun 01, 2009 3:19 pm

(Sorry for the delay)

It is widely agreed that this poem admits two opposite interpretations about the father’s behavior: drunk and violent, or drunk and “loving”. I totally agree with Milla that the ambiguity of the poem is directly related with the innocence of the son: since he is not explicitly complaining about the treatment he receives, we are confused when trying to define the father-son relationship.

I want to talk a bit more about Roethke’s intent with this ambiguity. The point of view of the text is external: we see the action and events occurring in the poem but we don’t clearly know what the son, the father, and the mother are thinking. We can only infer that from their behaviors. The father is obviously drunk, and the mother is “frowning”, displeased by her husband behavior. The son is only said to have difficulties to keep up with his father, as he “hung like death.” But since we cannot establish for sure whether the son is victim of his father or not, it becomes clear that the poet let our judgment decide of the matter.

It reminds me of Ernest Hemingway, whose style implied an emphasis on actions and events but little characters’ insight thoughts, so the reader can interpret the relations between characters as it best fits to him. What paternal figures do we have in our cells? Do we see a figure of the brutal, reckless and inhibited father, or a figure of the careless, eccentric, and clumsy father? In short, should we condemn or forgive this man for coming home drunk, ten years after the Great Depression (in the 40’s), therefore probably trying to forget his unstable economic situation, and in state of drukenness, loving his son in his own careless and heavy-handed way? Because to me, this poem is nothing but a father who has the intent to love his son but doesn’t have the sobriety to sanely succeed.(and yet, that's a Freudian conclusion, since I am seeing the papa through my subjective vision of my own experiences.)
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Re: fourth poem (finally!!)

Post  juracy on Wed Jun 03, 2009 5:54 pm

i would have to disagree with Luisa, under my understanding of the the poem the child does't realize the drunkness of the father, and his mother looking from the outside with a more mature view of the situation is the one who realizes what is happening. Therefore even though i still feel pitty for the boy having a drunk fatehr and all he doesn't realize what is really going on, he just sees the playing and dancing around, even though he hit some objects in the kitchen.

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