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Theodore Roethke was an American poet born in 1908 in Michigan. He was the son of German immigrants who settled there. His father owned a greenhouse along with Theodore’s uncle.  During adolescence, he had to deal with his uncle’s suicide and his father’s death from cancer. Roethke studied at Michigan University and subsequently at Harvard University; however, because of financial reasons he couldn’t complete his studies and started teaching English at different universities. During his stay at the University of Michigan, he started suffering from manic depression and translated that into his poetry. He then shifted to Washington University and was associated with the poets of the Northwest. In 1953 he married a former student, but ten years later he died of a heart attack while swimming in a friend’s pool (History Link).  This paper is a look at Roethke’s poem name “My Papa’s Waltz”.

“My Papa’s Waltz” is a short poem of only four stanzas and the language used is quite simple and is unlike his other work which is more complex and longer.  The use of words do not give a very clear picture throughout the poem and an initial reaction to reading the poem seems to be a little boy being terrorized by his father.  The words Whiskey on your breath and But I hung on like death; this may indicate a drunk and abusing father who is prone to violence.  Some critics agree. Ciardi considers the poem to be the “poem of terror” (369). While others disagree, according to Malkoff:

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