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My Papa's Waltz

My Papa's Waltz

by Theodore Roethke

Stanza 1 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 1-2

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;

  • Judging by the title, the person addressed in these lines is the small boy's father, and the small boy is our speaker.
  • The father has been drinking whiskey, and not just a little. He's so drunk that even the smell of his breath could make a small boy, like his son, feel a bit woozy.
  • These lines show that the poem will address the father in the second person, referring to him as "you." But we don't think he's actually there with the boy because, after all, we hear nothing back from the man. Instead, his son is probably just thinking about talking to him.

Line 3

But I hung on like death:

  • This line indicates that the whiskey is indeed making our speaker quite dizzy, because he has to hang on like death, perhaps the one thing that hangs on to us all.
  • Using the word "death" so early in the poem clues the reader in that this poem isn't just a happy memory – it's also haunted.
  • Saying that the boy hung on "like" death is an example of a simile.

Line 4

Such waltzing was not easy.

  • This line wraps up the first stanza. In what could be a happy moment, father and son dancing, we see that it's kind of tricky for the son to hold on to his drunken father.
  • Also, if the waltz of this poem is a metaphor for their father-son relationship, this could show that it's not easy to dance between loving and fearing his father's power.

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