The Use Of Stylistic Devices In Theodore Roethke’s My Papa’s Waltz

February 26, 2022 by Essay Writer

The American writer, Roger Gould once said, “Deep inside us, we know what every family therapist knows: the problems between the parents become the problems within the children.” This sad reality can be shown in Theodore Roethke’s poem “My Papa’s Waltz’, which is focused on the relationship between a father and his son, who are involved in some form of waltzing/dancing. The poet presents the parental figure as a drunkard, and it is justified by the way it was easy to smell the liquor from his breathe. The son cannot evidently withstand the smell and complains of many other things, including the pulling of his ear until he sent him to sleep. The understanding of the theme of child abuse in the poem “My Papa’s Waltz” by Roethke affirms the use of various stylistic devices relevant to the literary piece.

The most evident aspect of the poem is the speaker’s position in enabling the reader to understand domestic violence. The speaker is a man who narrates his childhood memory he had with his father since it is apparent that the father harassed the son in many ways. The statement “Could make a small boy dizzy’ implies that the speaker recalls the times he experienced with his father when he was younger. Another relevant device used in the poem to describe the relationship between the two is the tone. The poem can be described as resentful since he did not receive proper parenting from his parents, more specifically his father. The line describing “Such waltzing was not easy” implies that the son recalls how much pain he would have to bear as his abusive father waltzed him. The poetic tone used, therefore, trances the reader into believing that the father was failing in his role and caused unnecessary pain on his son.

The use of irony in the poem is another way of understanding the relationship between the son and his parent. It is ironic that the word “waltz” is used to describe the way the father was moving since the term implies a form of formal dance. However, considering that the son was referring to his drunken father’s movement, and it is clear that it was far from what would be perceived as formal. The realization that the boy even recalls the father’s alcoholic breathe means that it was not an official move, which implies that the idea of the waltz is satirical. It is also imperative to describe the use of imagery in the poem because the stylistic device enables the reader to understand how the father previously tortured his son in the past. The senses of sound, sight, and touch are all expressed figuratively, and the reader would have to use critical thought to understand the meaning. For example, it is described, “You beat time on my head”. This statement could easily be thought of as a way of describing the movement that the father was making with his son. However, a more critical analysis proves that the ‘beat’ appears to have a more violent connotation as it refers to the element of battering that the son was experiencing in his childhood. The beat would as well be used to imply to his father’s knuckles and thus establish an undercurrent of violence with the boy being a victim.

The use of simile is also illustrative of the pain implications that the boy experienced in his past. There is only one in the poem, and the poet presents it in the third line when he says, ‘But I hung on like death” to describe the desperation he had to establish a optimistic relationship with his father. However, he had to endure with his violent character even though he wanted to spend more productive time with him. It is also imperative to describe the use of consonance in the poem as it entails the repetition of the same consonant sound in words. The apprehension of the literary device in the novel is in the form of rhyme as the poet uses “breath/death, shelf/itself, knuckle/buckle” and many other aspects of consonance to create a rhythm to enable the reader to understand the theme.

Lastly, the use of rhyme is equally relevant in the poem in describing the poetic tone of the relationship between the two family members. The poet uses a loose ballad structure because the reader perceives a feature of an ABAB rhyme scheme at the end of the lines in the poem. It is clear how the first rhymes that go with the third line as the second and the fourth lines create a rhythm as well. The alternating patterns create emphasis to underline the stressed syllables that focus on the featured domestic violence. In summary, the poet uses varied approaches to enable the reader to apprehend the various stylistic tools and figurative language elements. The primary theme that each relates to is that of the complicated relationship that a child had with his father, and that is indicative of some form of violence. Overall, the use of each of the mentioned devices is effective in the poem, and despite its brevity, the poem is clear to the reader as the theme of domestic abuse is evident.

Works Cited

  1. McKenna, John J. “PDF.”
  2. McMahan, Elizabeth. Literature and the Writing Process. 11th ed., Pearson, 2018.
  3. Roethke, Theodore. “My Papa’s Waltz.” The Poetry Foundation, 2017,
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