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A comparison of the daddy by sylvia plath and my papas waltz by theodore reothke

At first glance it appears to be a simple four stanza work but a closer look at these 16 lines will reveal much more.

A Comparison of “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke to “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath

This analysis will help you to understand just why this poem has stood the test of time. Although it's aimed at students, lovers of poetry will benefit from this close up look too.

Theodore Roethke 1908-1963 was born and grew up in Saginaw, Michigan, eventually going on to Harvard and then into teaching poetry in Washington. He had several bouts of depression and mental instability during the 1930s but eventually overcame them. His poetry borders on the confessional but isn't in the same league as say, Robert Lowell or Anne Sexton.

"My Papa's Waltz", and "Daddy"

You'll find a more lyrical approach to life with some of his work. It has a warmth and a charm that offsets the darker elements. His father had a horticultural business and many poems reflect Roethke's interest in the greenhouses he worked in when a boy. The greenhouse poems so called include My Papa's Waltz. Towards the end of his life Roethke became one of the most popular poets of his generation.

You may need to read through at least three times before starting any serious analysis.

Analysis of the Poem "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke

Make notes as you go along just in case you forget something important. As you read what sort of rhythm do you get a sense of? Does it tie in with the title? Which words are stressed and which not? This is a snapshot of life from the mind of a child and conveys a sense of fun and menace at the same time. The dance is a waltz so it has a lilting, regular feel to it, almost lighthearted. But the child is fearful of the father's strength, he can smell the liquor on his breath.

This is not positive yet a father dancing with his son should be an uplifting experience. The mother's presence is important, she provides a contrast to the powerful, near out of control father. There's a hint of domestic chaos in the poem and the reader is compelled to try to work out whether this is a good or a bad thing.

After reading this poem what sort of feeling are you left with? Are you happy for the boy who is dancing with his whiskey drinking father? Or do you fear for both him and his mother? The poem leaves the reader asking questions despite the regular rhythm and simple form of the poem. Such waltzing was not easy. You beat time on my head With a palm caked hard by dirt, Then waltzed me off to bed Still clinging to your shirt.

Tone Is this a positive or a negative kind of poem? What sort of feelings are aroused when you read through each stanza?

  • I feel as if the boy really needs the relationship with his father to be successful, and was going to hang on so tight to try to make that work;
  • As for the residents of the real world, we realize that such an uncomplicated relationship rarely manifests;
  • I was ten when they buried you;
  • I found that the boy, no matter how much the father disappointed him, still hung on to his father and had trusted him.

You could argue that this poem has a playful, carefree sort of atmosphere. The child is dancing with his father in the house just before bedtime. Words like romped and waltzed add to the informality. Surely this would be a scene of joy and happiness? The answer is yes and no.

  • I found that the boy, no matter how much the father disappointed him, still hung on to his father and had trusted him;
  • Paul Hunter, and Kelly J;
  • The words battered and scraped, beat and hard suggest the father's rough handling of the boy but these are neutralised almost by the use of waltzed, which implies some sort of carefree innocence;
  • There's a hint of domestic chaos in the poem and the reader is compelled to try to work out whether this is a good or a bad thing;
  • Make notes as you go along just in case you forget something important;
  • This is a slant or half rhyme because only the end syllables sound the same.

There's an ambiguity built up in the poem so that, on the one hand this is a light and frolicking poem, yet there's darkness and uncertainty too. The child hangs on to the whiskey drinking father like death, and the father's dirty hand beats time on his son's head. Not an orthodox word to use in this context. With a palm baked hard by dirt, Then waltzed me off to bed The mother's contrasting expression is apparent in the use of the words countenance and unfrown, with their rounded, long vowel sounds.

This helps bring home the idea of the seriousness of the situation as the boy is waltzed round the room by his father. Knuckle and buckle are hard, aggressive words, breath and death suggest begnnings and end of life, shirt and dirt related to work and masculinity.

Enjambment occurs in every stanza. You can learn more about these terms here. Rhyme The poem has a regular and full rhyme scheme, abab, with an exception in the first stanza.

A comparison of the daddy by sylvia plath and my papas waltz by theodore reothke

Did you spot it? The word dizzy isn't a full rhyme with easy. This is a slant or half rhyme because only the end syllables sound the same. Do you think the rhyme scheme helps the poem?

You could argue that yes, it does. If the poem is about a dance that has a regular patterned rhythm to it - the waltz is one of the most rhythmical forms of dance - then having each stanza 'closed' with a rhyme helps the idea of a fixed pattern of movement.

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Themes There are several themes threading through each other. The man is hard working, wants a bit of fun with his son, yet when the domestic scene becomes messy, the mother becomes disgruntled, perhaps a little angry.

The waltz somehow manages to contain the drunken man's energy but there is the idea that things could get out of control. Later on the child is 'still clinging' to the father's shirt as they go dancing off to bed. From the outset we know that this is a child speaking to the father about the smell of alcohol whiskey, your breath. If life is a dance then this child is having a tough time because the dance was not easy - note the lack of a contraction which makes the line more formal.

In stanza 2 romped implies a sense of fun but lacking control because things fall from the shelf as a result of the dance and mother isn't well pleased. The use of the word countenance and unfrown is unusual. The former refers to the mother's facial expression, the latter isn't a proper word. Why did the poet choose these words? Was it to highlight the contrast in behaviour of the mother and father?

The words battered and scraped, beat and hard suggest the father's rough handling of the boy but these are neutralised almost by the use of waltzed, which implies some sort of carefree innocence.

Conclusion My Papa's Waltz whilst not a complex poem in form or diction can give rise to points of debate and interest. It's basically offering two options: The father is a drunkard who doesn't know how to control himself and who is threatening to the home life. I think this poem works because the rhythm of the waltz and the ambiguity are maintained throughout; we empathise with the clinging child who is roughly handled by the drunken father.

Yet within that dance is a hint of desperation and a whole load of fear, carried by short lines, enclosed within easy rhyme. Says the Lamb 1961 The Far Field 1964.

  • Paul Hunter, and Kelly J;
  • Obviously her mental state did nothing to affect her intelligence and writing prowess, but it did entail multiple suicide attempts and her eventual suicide at age thirty;
  • Surely this would be a scene of joy and happiness?