My Papa's Waltz

Poem 1: How do we make meaning from text?

Please read the poem, and respond to the writing prompt below. 
*You can click on the title of the poem to hear an audio version read by the author.

My Papa's Waltz*

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.
                                      —Theodore Roethke

 Question 1:
Who is the speaker (narrator)? 

 Question 2: What is the speaker's attitude toward his father? Pick one or two words that describes this attitude and write them down in your journal.

 Question 3:   How did you come to this conclusion? Please reflect metacognitively about the process that you took to answer this question.

What specific details helped you to understand the text? Did personal experience help you to better understand the poem? Did you reread the poem? Did you look up words in the dictionary? Did you think about the context of the poem? Did you visualize the poem? Please write down the the step by step process that you went through to make meaning of this poem. 

Tips for Reading Poetry:

Never ignore the title. The title is considered by many to be the beginning of the poem and should not be overlooked as it is an integral aspect of the poem's meaning.

Poems are meant to be heard. Many poets argue that their work should be read aloud from beginning to end and that the reader must pay careful attention to the cues, such as punctuation, line breaks etc. supplied by the poet. Form is content in poetry.

It is not unusual to read a poem and feel perplexed by the meaning.
Start with what you know. What concrete details help you understand the poem? What is the setting? What is happening in the poem, or what is the action? When was the poem written? Who is the speaker? What is the central conflict? Looking for a binary (opposites) relationship can also be helpful.

Identifying what you know about the poem and what you want to know (using KWL+) in is a great strategy to gain access into the poem. Once you establish what you don't understand re-read sections of the poem and write a reflection about what you think this section means, or what difficulty you are having in understanding the poem. 

What would a formalist look for in the poem?

Irony is one device poets often use to increase complexity.
Is there a paradox? 
Is there ambiguity?
Is there tension?

What else "the text itself" tell us. What might a New Critic (NC) consider?

A NC would look for patterns. These patterns might be grammatical, sensory (combinations of sounds, colors, or scents), or object related, evolving and changing from the beginning to the end of the poem. Start identifying the similarities and differences between the images, objects and/or patterns in the poem. Is there Rhyme? How does the Rhyme contribute to the meaning?

Identify Allusions. Often poets make references to other people, places or objects in their work. Taking the time to figure out these allusions will give you greater insight into the poet's intentions.

Read the poem again.

Find the climatic moments. Often a poem, like a story, has moments when the action rises, the direction changes, and the meaning alters.

Consider Compression and Repetition. Compression refers to the way words and images are blended together. Repetition implies both rhythm and emphasis. The space between stanzas can suggest time passing, scenes changing, and so on.

Reflect again on the title.

Write your analysis using specific language from the poem to back up your ideas. Often personal experience informs our meaning-making. Connecting the world in the poem to your own life often helps the reader gain deeper understanding.

1 comment:

  1. I loved the poem 'My Papa's Waltz' by Theodore Roethke. It was hard for me not to bring my own feeling in to my interpretation of the poem, but their was one line that truly made me feel that it was a positive story; 'With a palm caked hard by dirt' The only way I could interpret this line was positive. The boy was well aware that his father worked hard. For a young child to be aware of the cause takes compassion.
    When I read the poem and bring in my personal feelings to it; I am torn two ways. My father drank and was verbally abusive when he drank, but he worked from 6 am until long after dark, and their was never a doubt in my mind that he loved me and would do anything for me.

    140 words