Study Guide

My Papa's Waltz Family

Advertisement - Guide continues below


The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy; (lines 1-2)

These lines introduce the two main characters of this poem, the father and his son. The son is addressing his father, and referring to himself, the small boy, in the third person. His father, here, is demonstrating his dominating by smelling like alcohol, and, more specifically, like whiskey. The son, on the other hand, is small and dizzy compared to his father.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf; (lines 5-6)

These lines place the dance in the kitchen, which, for many, is the center of family life. The kitchen is where meals are made and shared, and where waltzes are danced that shake the pans off the shelf.

My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself. (lines 7-8)

These lines introduce the mother of the family. Her "countenance," or facial expression, can't stop frowning. But maybe her expression isn't showing what she's really thinking. There are a few possibilities here. The mother might be putting on a frown for the sake of seeming as though she disapproves when she's actually amused by this dance. Alternatively, she's really upset, and too angry or too scared to say anything to stop this dance from making a mess of the kitchen.

At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle. (lines 11-12)

These lines show that this dance isn't all fun and games for the boy, as he's getting pretty scratched up. Again, we see where two interpretations could come into play here – either the boy is having too much fun to say something about his ear getting scraped, or he's scared of upsetting his father. We think these lines are a metaphor for part of the nature of family: when one member takes a missed step in real life, it hurts others in the family.

Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt. (lines 15-16)

This wraps up the poem in what seems like a loving gesture of parenthood. We wonder, will the father and mother go to sleep right after this? Will he help her clean up the pans that have crashed all over the kitchen? Or will the whiskey on his breath cause an argument? The poem doesn't tell us any of this, but merely shows this dance into bed. We're left to wonder what the family dynamics really are.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...