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The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

 

about the poet
Theodore Roethke (1908-1963). Born in Saginaw, Michigan, Roethke was the son of a greenhouse owner; greenhouses figure prominently in the imagery of his poems....(more)

Critical approaches to literature reveal how or why a particular work is constructed and what its social and cultural implications are. Understanding critical perspectives will help you to see and appreciate a literary work as a multilayered construct of meaning. Reading literary criticism will inspire you to reread, rethink, and respond. Soon you will be a full participant in an endless and enriching conversation about literature. Below are exercises on how to interpret "My Papa’s Waltz" from different critical approaches.

Critical Approaches Interactive Exercises for “My Papa’s Waltz”

>Psychoanalytic Criticism
>Feminist Criticism
>The New Criticism
>Marxist Criticism
>Formalism
>Structuralism
>The New Historicism
>Deconstruction
>Reader-Response Criticism

For a model essay about “My Papa’s Waltz” written from a particular critical approach, click on either of the links below:

>Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz”: A Deconstructionist Reading

>Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz”: A Reader's Response


"My Papa's Waltz" from COLLECTED POEMS OF THEODORE ROETHKE by Theodore Roethke, copyright. Used by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House Inc.

Contributing author: Margaret Wald

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