and the man were fixing the well. They had the top off.
You could lie on your stomach and look way deep into
the black water. He thought it would be wonderful to
spit down there. He did. It went floating down like
foam, then bobbed like a paper boat. Just when he felt
so nice and dreamy, Papa grabbed him by the collar and
boxed his ears until his head reeled. You dirty
boy! he yelled. Schreckliches Kind!
echoed Bob, the foreman, who always agreed with Papa.
No, Papa didn't like him much. He always gave Bud everything.
Bud had a whole pot shed for a pirates den and
wouldnt even let him play. Don't be such
a whiner, Papa said.
But Bud didnt always talk nice about Papa. When
John said that his father used to be the best old pitcher
around, Bud would whisper to the other fellows like
some smarty. Aw, he said one day, My
dad says that Uncle Otto may be the president of the
company but hes really nothin but a watchman
That made John good and mad. He walloped Bud, and tore
his shirt, and made him eat dirt. It wasnt often
that he licked him, either. Just when hed flopped
Bud over after hed wiggled away a little, Papa
came up, swearing like everything. My God, Otto,
you shouldnt shake that child so, Mama said.
Sometimes he dreamed about Papa. Once it seemed Papa
came in and danced around with him. John put his feet
on top of Papas and theyd waltz. Hei-dee-dei-dei.
Rump-tee-tump. Only babies expected dreams to come true.
There must be something wrong with himself, he thought.
He often looked in the mirror to see if he looked funny.
Mama loved him all right. Bet even old Mrs. Wilson next
door called her kid, Honey-boy, and he was
Monkey-face to everyone else.
One afternoon, John slept on the bed in Grandpas
house. Grandpa had swords and things. He knew lots of
stories. Grandpa would start telling a story about Bismarck
and John would fall asleep. Then Grandpa would go to
This time Grandpa was gone when John awoke. There was
laughing in the next room. When he looked through the
door, he saw Grandpas maid in Papas arms.
He gasped and stared. The world seemed to spin around.
Then he crept out the back door, feeling quite happy.
He wouldnt have to worry any more. He hated Papa.
Contributing author: Michelle Ephraim,
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
1). Compare Roethkes portrait of his father in this story and in My Papas Waltz.
2). Compare and contrast how Roethke uses the symbol of the waltz to represent his relationship with his father in both story and poem.
3). Could My Papas Waltz be characterized as a poem that allows Roethke to work out feelings toward his father?