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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)

Exploring the patterns created by the formal elements of a poem—alliteration, image, tone, and metaphor, for example—helps us to understand more deeply the poem’s meaning and the nuances that enrich that meaning. This kind of formal close reading of the poem’s text is fundamental to any analysis of poetry.

To examine what roles various literary elements play in "My Papa’s Waltz," click on one of the following choices. Interactive questions follow each analysis.

>Alliteration
>Diction
>Image
>Irony
>Meter
>Rhyme
>Simile
>Symbol
>Word Order

For a demonstration of how you might pull together analyses of the elements of poetry in "My Papa’s Waltz," see our sample essay (PDF).


"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: Quentin Miller, Suffolk University

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