Image in "My Papas Waltz"
The overall image we have of the
waltz depends partially on our perspective. It is possible
to view this scene from the fathers point of view,
from the mothers, and from the speakers, both
as a child and as an adult. But the most telling imagery
in the poem surrounds the fathers 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
- line 9 - "The hand that held my wrist"
The speaker brings us back to a childhood impression,
close-up, of the fathers 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.