Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Papa's Waltz / The Fish

My Papa's Waltz

Roethke's 1948 poem, "My Papa's Waltz" follows the pattern of a three beat per line waltz, I'm assuming to match the content/title. Yet, instead of being a poem about a father dancing, I feel Roethke intended on other interpretations. The first line starts by noting the father has whiskey on his breath, more or less implying he's an alcoholic. Roethke then describes a romp between his father and himself, which is another word for playing roughly. This works well in conveying that he is young, and that to an outsider it looks like rough play, when in all honesty, I believe it's referring to Roethke's abuse he suffered from his father. One line which I feel supports this claim is how his "mother's countenance / Could not unfrown itself" (p.2711, 7-8). Countenance is another word for facial expressions; this is Roethke displaying his mother's frown, the sadness that she feels in witnessing the scuffle. Saying his father "beat time on [his head]" (2711, 13), keeps the idea of a waltz (keeping beat/rhythm) but also displays the abusive actions of his father.

The Fish

"The Fish" tells the tale of a woman who catches a fish one day while out on the water. This poem, while seeming very plain and ordinary, speaks a lot through it's simple descriptions and straight-forward presentation. Bishop creates a scenario so beautifully strange, that one cannot help but fall in love with this. In "The Fish," the narrator pulls the fish up to the side of the boat. She details all of the fishes' attributes, describing him as being very old, yet very majestic. The reader later comes to find out the fish has many strings in its lip, showing how many times this fish has either escaped his predators, or witnessed their mercy towards him. Bishop declares these strings medals, and in that, accepts victory over catching such an amazing fish. The part of the poem that is extremely interesting, is the occurrence of rainbows. Rainbows, symbolically, have always stood for many things. I believe her inclusion of rainbows in the end, coupled with her releasing the fish, go hand in hand. The oil spills from the fish, and the rainbows appear once the sunlight hits it, symbolizing achievement (in catching the fish/in being released), life moving forward, and even maybe connections between animals. It's as if Bishop shares this immense respect for the fish, as they are both victorious creatures. 


  1. I agree with your interpretation of My Papa's Waltz. I got the same interpretation of abusive actions from his father.

  2. As mentioned in the presentation this week, the interpretation of abuse in Roethke's poem is more of a modern one that given the historical context probably can't be supported based just on what's in the poem. The poem is likely autobiographical, and there is no history of abuse from Roethke's father that has ever been discovered. Modern readers, who are much more attuned to these issues, tend to read the poem this way, but at the time it was published, it was seen as a moment of play between a father and son...