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Theodore Roethke's My Papa's Waltz" : Abuse or Play?

            I first thought of "My Papa's Waltz- by Theodore Roethke as a disturbing portrayal of a father beating his child, despite it's playful form, which imitates the cadence of a waltz in the meter of its stanzas very well. The usage of very strong, almost violent language seemed to support this interpretation of the poem's content. On a second look however, simply reading the poem, trying not to stick to the first impression of the abusive father, a playful image of a hardworking man dancing awkwardly, but enthusiastically with his child entered my mind instead. Therefore we can say that "My Papa's Waltz- accommodates starting points for multiple interpretations. By citing ambivalent expressions and lines I am going to support my first as well as my second impression of the poem.
             Roethke's use of very strong and powerful language and words such as "death-, "beat- as well as "battered- directs the reader's mind into expecting the poem's content to be violent. The following extracts may be interpreted to support this thesis of the abusive father. The opening line "The whisky on your breath- may indicate that the father has been drinking or is drunk, which would correspond with the picture of the abusive father. As this is the very first information the reader gets about the father, his drunkenness appears to be highly important, most probably in a negative kind of way. Furthermore, the child does not appear to be enjoying himself at all, as the "waltz- requires him to hang on "like death-. The word "death- raises the threatening reminder that child-abuse often has fatal consequences. The second stanza seems to display a desperate mother helplessly watching her husband raging "until the pans Slid from the kitchen shelf-. The hand "That held [the child's] wrist-, may be "battered- as a cause of the "romping- in the kitchen, even the lines "At every stepped you missed My right ear scraped a buckle- could describe the father beating his child with a belt.

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