Simile in "My Papas Waltz"
There is only one example of simile
in the poem, so we should pay special attention to it.
In line 3, the speaker hangs on like death.
It is a complex and abstract simile whose meaning is neither
obvious nor stable.
- line 3 - "But I hung on like death"
The simile must work in two ways: Death must be something
that hangs on, and the speaker must see his or her younger
self in terms of death. It is an unlikely simile: Hangs
on means, roughly, clings in this context,
but in what sense does death cling? A more obvious simile
would be like a burr or like a desperate
man gripping a ledge. The fact that Roethke chooses
death makes us consider his purpose. Perhaps
he introduces death to emphasize the danger of the situation
or the darker side of the waltz. It also gives
the child a power outside of human agency, which is the
only way to have any power over the father. Death hangs
on in the sense that it is permanent, and perhaps
the child wants to freeze this moment for fear of what
will happen if he or she lets go.