The first stanza introduces what is a heavily ironic tone that persists throughout the poem. A waltz sounds like a pleasant enough diversion, but the whiskey, the dizziness, and especially the word death collectively undercut this assumption and make us understand that the situation is not entirely lighthearted.
- lines 1-2 - "The whiskey on your breath / Could make a small boy dizzy"
These lines are ironic because, while it is possible that the smell of the whiskey alone would make the child dizzy, being swung roughly (and even drunkenly) about is probably to blame too.
- line 3 - "I hung on like death"
This line emphasizes the irony of line 4. Because the speakers father presents a certain danger, he hangs on to him here not necessarily like death but rather for dear life. The word death is thus ironic, but it makes the danger of the situation clear and offsets the notion that this is just a lighthearted waltz.
- line 4 - "Such waltzing was not easy"
The waltz should be easy, on a literal level, because the speaker is just being swung around by his father. It isnt easy because, apparently, their lives together arent easy.
- lines 5-6 - "We romped until the pans / Slid from the kitchen shelf"
Continuing the tone of the first stanza, the word romped here is ironic because it makes the waltz sound carefree, yet the effect of this romping is to cause a violent, crashing disruption in their domestic world.