Essay: Theodore Roethke – My Papa’s Waltz
This essay discusses Theodore Roethke. The poet remembers how, when he was a child, his father, who was a gardener, used to return late at night from drinking at a tavern after a hard day of work and they would ‘waltz’ together. It’s not clear whether the waltz was just a bit of innocent roughhousing or whether it strayed into physical abuse territory. Regardless of what it was, the poet remembers it with affection and tenderness.
There is an air of magic about the poem. The wild masculine energy of the drunken father is fascinating and otherworldly to the little boy. Since the father worked hard at his garden all day and came home late after a drinking session, the ‘waltz’ before he was hauled off to bed was the only time at which the son got to be with his father and he values and relives those moments.
Theodore Roethke (1908-1963), born in Saginaw, Michigan, was the son of a German immigrant to the United States. His father owned a greenhouse and many of Roethke’s poetical works are observations of plant and insect life. He brought forth several works of poetry, one of which The Waking, won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1954. He taught poetry at several colleges and universities throughout the United States offering guidance to a generation of poets. Roethke suffered from bipolar disorder for a large part of his adult life.
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