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 espite 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 rashing 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 craped 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 rom 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.