In any literary work, certain factors affect the quality done by its author. In reviewing prose of a particular author of choice, for instance, the viewpoint of the author presented along with the setting, character(s), and others should [definitely] be considered. In so doing, the greatness of the work is revealed. Nevertheless, in this particular paper, it is worthy to consider the comparison of two of Theodore Roethke’s works: “My Papa’s Waltz” and “Wish for a Young Wife”. And this literary review will be done in light of the works’ symbolism and the point of view of the poet.
At the first sight of Roethke’s My Papa’s Waltz, many tend to get wrong with their understanding of the poem. First and foremost, this poem is obviously talking about a father-child relationship. It could mostly be the exact experience of Theodore Roethke in his life. Now if one would ask many readers, particularly students, of this age to say something about the poem they would suggest that the implication of this poem points to child abuse and drunkenness. The first two lines of the poem “The whiskey on your breath could make a small boy dizzy” indeed refer to the present drunkenness of the father. Others would add the next line, referring to “death”, as a complement to this thought. Many even say that the poem even includes lines talking about the child being “battered on one knuckle” and having his “ear scraped a buckle” (Roethke 308). Such symbolism used in the poem may likely to point the readers into wrong conception of the work. Nevertheless, it should be noted that in understanding the poem in light of symbolism one should look at the timeframe of the written work. Indeed, when a poem with such lines – as aforementioned – is written in this time, it most likely refers to drunkenness and child abuse. One possible reason for such viewpoint is that today’s society is marked by these things; the issue of drunkenness and child abuse is greatly evident, and commentators find this poem to support it. But looking at the timeframe of the work, along with how Roethke did his work, will allow the readers to conceive the real mind of the poet.
Actually, the poem talks about a father wanting to be with his child from work. The lines “The hand that held my wrist was battered on one knuckle” and “with a palm caked hard by dirt” refers to the hard work from which the father came from. Besides, this could be how Roethke presents fathers during their time. Many literary works back then talk about fathers being a florist and a gardener who would “stand all night watering roses” (America Public University System 307). The symbolism used in the prose is quite “overtly” used. If one would read it, it clearly talks about the work of the father.
Moreover, there is another factor that makes the prose worthy of reading: the author’s point of view. Just as Roethke is described as one who uses his work to reveal and to bring back the reality of human life into the minds of his audience, he talks about a happy memory for a father-and-child relationship. Even if the father just came home from hard work, he would still desire to do waltz with his child. Roethke’s point of view in this prose encourages his readers in the midst of anxiety and suffering brought the presence of war during their time. He even ended his poem with the line “still clinging to your shirt” which could refer to the memory of such kind of father still being instilled in his mind and heart. The symbolism used in the last two lines may not be explicitly presented, but it clearly leads to the point of view of the author. Life is good, despite wars or any hardships, and there are many certain things that are worth having instilled in one’s memories throughout his/her life.
In comparison to this prose, Roetkhe also did his work of symbolism in Wish for a Young Wife, which was written in 1964. Unlike the use of the symbols “beat time on my head,” “battered on one knuckle,” “palm caked hard by dirt” and “still clinging on your shirt” in My Papa’s Waltz, Roetkhe makes a somehow implicit use of images in Wish for a Young Wife. Besides, looking at the first line, one would even wonder why the wife has to be considered a “lizard”. If the title is not given, such first line would most likely give a negative impression to the reader. Again, concerning the implicit use of images compared to the first prose discussed above, this prose includes images like “green ice,” “mean gaze,” “hair blaze” and “in the sun” (Roethke 309). Now actually, this points us to the author’s encouragement to a wife in the midst of hardships as well. Like in My Papa’s Waltz this prose tells the readers the goodness in standing well despite hardships. This tells the wife to never grow weary of life. Living in “ice” is a hard one; it brings you closer to death. But to survive in it is good. This tells the wife to ever let her beauty shine despite her adversaries; she has to have her “hair ever blaze in the sun”. And such goodness of the wife should not depend on the husband. Even if it ever happened that the husband is nothing and is a “no one” after all, the wife is intended to be at her best.
Again, the symbolism used here is more implicit compared to Roetkhe’s use in the first prose. The use of natural images tend to make the poem hard to be conceived as one referring to a person – who is the wife – and her way of life. In fact, the last three lines is a seemingly confusing transition for some since it includes the nothingness of the husband. Nevertheless, such implicit symbolism may have strengths and weaknesses. Understanding it may be hard at some point; but if one finds the thought revealed in it, goodness and quality is shown.
Furthermore, the point of view implied in this prose is more specific in terms of the character described compared to the early prose. In My Papa’s Waltz, the thought refers to a general public. It could specifically refer to fathers, but the thoughts of viewing life as good despite hardships and the presence of certain things worthy of our memory are general. Children, parents, men, and women all need to just keep from being embittered with life’s anxiety, problems, wars, tragedies, etc. All have to keep the good things at sight and not the bad ones. However, in Wish for a Young Wife, the point of view implied is in a more specific way; it talks about a particular person, the wife. Though the idea taught here is similar to that implied in Roethke’s earlier prose, the thought points to the wife in particular. Only women have the glory in their beauty, and men do not have it. While men are supposed to be strong to work, to lead, to protect, and to provide for others (especially for women), women are live more becomingly when they shine at the best of their beauty in the inside as well as in the outside.
In these two works, Theodore Roethke successfully dealt with the “sense of lost values and negative moods” (America Public University System 306) in most of the literary works after the war in their time. The points of view, in particular, used in the two poems are clearly useful and essential in the real life.
America Public University System. American Literature Since the Civil War. Create edition.
New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. E-Book.
Roethke, Theodore. "My Papa’s Waltz." American Literature Since the Civil War. Create
edition. McGraw-Hill, 2011. E-Book.