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My Papa's Waltz

My Papa's Waltz

by Theodore Roethke

Stanza 3 Summary

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

Lines 9-10

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;

  • The father is grasping the son's wrist. Notice that this is different from the way the father's referred to in the rest of the poem; his hand is referred to as "the" hand, not "your" hand.
  • The hand is battered, but only on one knuckle. We don't quite know what "battered" means. It could just be cracked and dry from a long hard day of work, but then wouldn't every knuckle be battered? Maybe the father whacked it on something – perhaps he punched something, maybe he was carelessly drunk, or maybe he scraped it at work. We don't know.

Lines 11-12

At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

  • We get a little more about how this father-son relationship could be a little violent. Every time the father misses a step in his waltz, the son's ear scrapes against his belt buckle. The father seems to be gallivanting along, totally unaware that he's scratching his little boy as he goes.
  • A belt buckle also has a violent connotation, because in the past it was common for fathers to use their belts to beat their children (this still happens sometimes today).
  • We also see that this boy is very small – it seems like he's only as tall as his father's belt.

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