Famous Family Poem

Theodore Roethke is the small boy in this poem. His father died when he was just fifteen. Roethke struggled with mental illness all his life. His first book of poetry, Open House, was published in 1941. His relationship with his father occupied a large part of his writings.
In this poem it is unclear if the memories of his drunk father putting him to bed are happy or sad, abusive or merry, scary or sweet.

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Famous Poem

My Papa's Waltz

By more 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.


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