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Depiction of Father and Child Relationships in My Papa’s Waltz and Those Winter Nights

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Family relationships are meaningful and complicated at the same time. Every relationship is different. One special relationship is between a father and his child. Poetry is an excellent way to portrait this relationship. Both Robert Hayden’s poem “Those Winter Nights” and Theodore Roethke’s poem “My Papa’s Waltz” describe different but loving father and child relationships. In Roethke’s poem the relationship the speaker has with his father is a complicated one. The speaker of Roethke’s poem is revealed to be a small boy. Before going to bed the father is dancing the waltz with the little boy. The waltz could be a metaphor describing his relationship with his father. The speaker describes the waltz as “Such waltzing was not easy”, which could mean that their relationship was not always easy. The speaker goes on and describes how the father is messing up and the boy is getting hurt “At every step you missed / My right ear scraped a buckle”. This could also be another metaphor for the father’s mistakes could hurt his son. Certain word choice makes it seem that there could also be some type of violence in the relationship. The speaker describes the father’s hands “The hand that held my wrist / Was battered on one knuckle”. The word “battered” is a strong word to describe his hands. The speaker also mentions, “You beat time on my head” which again the word “beat” is strong word to describe keeping time. The poem’s focus is almost entirely on the waltz. The poem is written in iambic trimeter and a waltz has three beats as well. By transforming the poem into a waltz helps show the importance of the waltz itself. Even though the father’s relationship with his son is complicated, the son still loves and admires his father. Even though the waltz is rough the son clings to his father “Then waltzed me off to bed / Still clinging to your shirt”. The child ignores all the discomfort he feels to keep dancing with his father.

In Hayden’s poem the speaker’s relationship with the father was thoughtful one. The speaker describes all the responsibilities he would do for him. The father would get up start fires and wait for it to warm up before calling his family. He would also polish his children shoes “who had driven out the cold / and polished my good shoes as well”. The speaker speaks in remorse “What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices”. Hayden’s poem is a basic but common sonnet. The poem is about a different type of love. It is about the love parents have for their children and the love their children have for them. Just like the reader could not understand his father’s love until the end. The reader figures out the type of sonnet the poem is until the end.

Both poem are reflecting on a childhood memory but each of them have a different focus. In Roethke’s poem the speaker focuses more on how his father treated him and how he has hurt him, “At every step you missed / My right ear scraped a buckle”. The reader can not be sure how the speaker feels about his father when he is all grown up. The reader remembers his father as being slightly unpredictable. In Hayden’s poem the speaker focuses more on the father and how the speaker mistreated him. The reader also knows that the speaker remembers his father with respect and remorse. The speaker regrets not being able to see that his father showed his love for him by taking care of him “What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices”. Both in “Those Winter Sundays” and in “My Papa’s Waltz” describe a different type of father and child relationship. Also both of these poems are about love and family. Each poem uses differently techniques to describe the loving father and child relationship. One poem describes a more thoughtful relationship while the other one is more complicated. In both poems readers can relate and see themselves in the poems.

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Depiction Of Father And Child Relationships In My Papa’s Waltz And Those Winter Nights. (2021, May 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 31, 2023, from
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