Image in "My Papa’s Waltz"

The overall image we have of the waltz depends partially on our perspective. It is possible to view this scene from the father’s point of view, from the mother’s, and from the speaker’s, both as a child and as an adult. But the most telling imagery in the poem surrounds the father’s hands, and we are thus encouraged to focus on them as a small boy might. On a literal level, the drunken father is just dancing with his child, but the action seems less loving and instead rough through the violent imagery associated with his hands.

- line 9 - "The hand that held my wrist"
The speaker brings us back to a childhood impression, close-up, of the father’s hand. A hand holding a wrist is certainly more aggressive and domineering than a hand holding a hand: The hand holding the wrist implies both a difference in size of their hands and, perhaps, that the child waltzes unwillingly.

- line 10 - "battered on one knuckle"
The fact that this hand is “battered on one knuckle” connotes violence. Battered is qualitatively different from milder words that mean roughly the same thing, like wounded. The father, because of his knuckle, seems belligerent and potentially violent.

- lines 13-14 - "You beat time on my head/ With a palm caked hard by dirt."
The word beat is rougher than kept (as in "kept time") and recalls the word battered of the previous stanza. This hand is not only dirty but hard, more a club than a hand.

Questions for response
1). How does this examination of imagery change your understanding of how the poem works as a whole?

2). Find other images in the poem. What do they contribute to the work?

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