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When you think of the term “daddy” what thoughts come to mind? For most it is an affectionate or familiar term, but not for all. In his poem, “My Papa’s Waltz”, Theodore Roethke depicts an altercation between a father and son. In contrast to the poem, Holly Dunn emphasizes love and tenderness between a father and child in the song “Daddy’s hands.” Each writer is showing the important role a father plays in a child’s life from very different points of view.
Both pieces have a very different portrayal of a father and are shown through the use of dominant poetic techniques. “My Papa’s Waltz” is written to resemble a waltz, traditional and elegant. The irony shown in what Roethke writes is that the waltz portrayed in the poem is tragic and clumsy, danced by a drunken man whose hands are dirty and beaten. Roethke shows great examples of this with the lines “The whiskey on your breath…/the hand that held…/was battered on one knuckle…/you beat time on my head” (Roethke 1-13). On the other hand, “Daddy’s Hands” relies on synecdoche to get the point across. Dunn talks about her Daddy’s hand as being both “soft and kind” and “hard as steel”, but she always felt “love in Daddy’s hands.” By sharing great description of her Daddy’s hands, Dunn allows the listener to fully understand how she truly feels about her Daddy.
In each piece of work the writers use similar persona. In “My Papa’s Waltz,” the speaker is a young boy talking about his father. Roethke beings “The whiskey on your breath could make a small boy dizzy;” (Roethke 1-2). This dialect suggests that it is a young boy speaking. Leading up to “My mother’s countenance could not unfrown itself” (Roethke 7-8), which likely suggests that the young boy is talking about his father. Dunn’s persona, on the other hand, is a woman looking back at her father’s life: “I remember Daddy’s hands…” (Dunn 1) representing her memory of her father.
Sound plays an important role in getting across the underlying meaning of each poem. “My Papa’s Waltz” is written to sound like a choreographed dance, joyous and playful. When first read the reader has a sense of a fun dance between a father and son. However, when one reads the poem again they realize the underlying message of abuse and alcohol, which are very different than the joyous and playful sound of the poem. On the other hand, the sound heard in “Daddy’s Hands” is sad and remembering when with the underlying message of happy and present.
In “My Papa’s Waltz” the ending, “still clinging to his shirt” ( Roethke 15), leads the reader to believe that even though the child was beaten and abused by his father, he still clung to him and looked up to him. In “Daddy’s Hands” even though her Daddy’s hands may have been rough from hard work and discipline, they were always gentle to her, “there was always love… in Daddy’s hands”. The two pieces portray “Daddy” in much different ways.
Dunn talks about how her father was strict when necessary, “Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was cryin´. Daddy´s hands, were hard as steel when I´d done wrong” (Dunn 9-10). This is much different than “you beat time on my head with a palm caked hard by dirt” (Roethke 13-14) which Roethke uses to show the abuse by the father in “My Papa’s Waltz.”
Roethke, a poet, and Dunn a songwriter, both wrote about how they felt about the role Daddy could or did play. Through dominant poetic techniques, good personification, and sound these writers showed the readers and listeners how they viewed a father, allowing the reader to share in their experiences with a detailed view. The two writers leave their readers and listeners thinking about who their Daddy was to them.