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my papa\'s waltz
Theodore Roethke uses imagery and a unifying structure to convey the loving
relationship between a daughter and her father in the poem "My Papa\'s
Waltz." Together these elements make it possible to communicate the
emotional bond between parent and child to the reader.
The first paragraph uses a clash of idea\'s to illustrate the child\'s father
and his bond with him. "The whiskey on your breath/ Could make a small boy
dizzy; / But I hung on like death: / Such waltzing was not easy." The
father is not the most presentable person with his stench of alcohol, but
despite this characteristic the narrator hangs on like death. The simile here
presents to the reader his unwillingness to leave him. Much like how death will
always be there waiting for us regardless. Her love sees past his lack of grace
and aroma and continues to dance with him.
As the poem continues into the second section imagery becomes quite clear as
the mechanism that demonstrates their kinship together to us the readers.
"We romped until the pans/ Slid from the kitchen shelf;" Their
boisterous play is painted vividly in our minds as we can almost hear the
crashing of the pots being overcome by the sounds of laughter as they play
together. "My mother\'s countenance/ Could not unfrown itself." Here
too we are reminded of the bond being a very personal relationship. One that is
limited to those that can understand it. The mother can not feel what they feel.
She can only show her disapproval as her kitchen is crashing down around her.
At the same time as the images become clear in our heads so does our
understanding of the narrator\'s want to dance with this drunkard. Structurally
it is necessary for our comprehension of what is happening. The first paragraph
tells us that the daughter does not want to unlatch herself from her father and
the second shows us why she does this.
Leading into the third section the reader feels like they have a complete
understanding of the situation. That is, to the narrator this is fun and games.
We are not aware of any signs of a deeper meaning. But, as we read the third
break a clash of images occurs between what we thought we saw in the second
paragraph and what is presented to us in the third. "The hand that held my
wrist/ Was battered on one knuckle; / At every step you missed/ My right ear
scraped a buckle." Here I get the picture of discomfort on both sides. This
is an idea that does not seem to fit with the previous one of a barrel of
laughs, but going back to the structure being a key to this poem we see that
this was a purposeful setup. Obviously this dance is important if it is worth
going through the discomfort to get it. Also the previous images of their fun
transforms in our mind as we realize that their enjoyment is being achieved even
with physical discomfort. By positioning the poem as it is a higher
understanding is reached in the reader.
The final paragraph essentially restates what was said in the first
paragraph, but when we read it we get a different understanding than when we
first read the beginning of the poem. This comes from the positioning of
paragraphs two and three\'s and their imagery that allows us to understand their
bond. "You beat time on my head / With a
palm caked hard by dirt, / Then waltzed me off to bed / Still clinging to
your shirt." Here I feel that the picture of a father banging his hand on
the head of his kid is part of his
character. The readers know that this trait does not discourage the child
from dancing, because her love runs much deeper than that. This sandwiching in
the poem brings much clarity to it as we get a better understanding of the
beginning because of its similarities to the end.
After the mural is done being painted in our minds the writer is successful
in doing the near impossible. He has conveyed the emotions of a very personal
bond that could not be grasped on our own. Only with the help of imagery and
structure do we get a glimpse of the lives of these two people and feel the
emotion that they feel.
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