"My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke is a great poem. In class, we discussed what the poem could be about, and we concluded that "My Papa's Waltz" has more than one meaning. Many people in my class assumed that the poem was about a drunk father beating up or being to rough with his small song. I believed that this poem is about just what it appears to be about on the outside: a son waltzing with his dad. During the debate, I was in a group that was neutral. Even though we were supposed to be able to see both sides of the poem, we all agreed that the poem was not about a boy being beaten by his dad. Our first point was that the father may not have been drunk, he could have just drunken a little. And yes, in the poem it does say "the whiskey on your breath can make a small boy dizzy," but it is not like it takes a whole lot of alcohol in the air to make a young boy feel dizzy, just a little bit would be enough. In the second stanza, the speaker of the poem talks about how "they romped until the pans slid from the kitchen shelf." Again, my group thought that this does not mean he was drunk; it is possible that the father is just clumsy, or maybe a bad dancer. In the next stanza, there is a line that says: "...every step you missed my right ear scraped a buckle." The majority of the class thought that in this line, the father is actually hitting the son. Though this is possible, I think that since the boy is small, and might not be taller than his father (who he is dancing with)'s waist, the line may just mean that since his dad is clumsy and missing steps, his ear scrapes against his dad's buckle.
Though I have my opinions, I can see the other side of the argument. This poem may be about a kid getting beat up by his dad. If this is true, I think that it is possible the child doesn't even know he is being abused. He, after all, is very young, so it is possible that he is not aware of what is father is doing; thus adding a third possible meaning to "My Papa's Waltz."
This poem could be a metaphor for getting beat up by a drunk father, a poem from the point of view of a little kid who is un aware he is getting abused, or a poem simply about a son waltzing and playing around the house with his dad. It could be other things too, it all depends on how you read it.