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 Heast Magazines, Inc.  Used by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Source: The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke (1961)

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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


Theodore Roethke hardly fits anyone’s image of the stereotypical high-minded poet-intellectual of the 1940s through 1960s. Born in Saginaw, Michigan, his father was a German immigrant who owned and ran a 25-acre greenhouse. Though as a child he read a great deal and as a high school freshman he had a Red Cross campaign speech translated into 26 languages, he suffered from issues of abandonment and loss, and his lack of . . .

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Poem Categorization

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

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Confessional

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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