My Papa’s Waltz

By Theodore Roethke 1908–1963 Theodore Roethke
The whiskey on your breath   
Could make a small boy dizzy;   
But I hung on like death:   
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans   
Slid from the kitchen shelf;   
My mother’s countenance   
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist   
Was battered on one knuckle;   
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head   
With a palm caked hard by dirt,   
Then waltzed me off to bed   
Still clinging to your shirt.

Theodore Roethke, “My Papa’s Waltz” from Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke. Copyright 1942 by Hearst Magazines, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke (1961)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Theodore Roethke 1908–1963

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Theater & Dance, Youth, Living, Relationships, Arts & Sciences

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Confessional

 Theodore  Roethke

Biography

Theodore Roethke was hardly one who would have been expected to become a major American poet. Though as a child he read a great deal and as a high school freshman he had a Red Cross campaign speech translated into twenty-six languages, he strove to be accepted by peers who felt "brains were sissys." The insecurity that led him to drink to be "in with the guys" continued at the University of Michigan, where he adopted a tough, . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Theater & Dance, Youth, Living, Relationships, Arts & Sciences

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Confessional

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.