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“My Papa’s Waltz” and “Bitch” by Theodore Roethke and Carolyn Kizer Essay

It is said that it is the disorder in life that makes living real. Therefore as writing is a mirror of life; the conflict – disorder – in writing creates the feeling of reality and making the poem all the more powerful. In the two poems “My Papa’s Waltz” and “Bitch” by Theodore Roethke and Carolyn Kizer, respectively, conflict is used to convey the main idea. The use of contradicting images emulates the fact that often love is double-sided, whether the conflict occurs simultaneously or sequentially.

The images presented in “My Papa’s Waltz” are simultaneously loving and violent – displaying that the child’s relationship with his father was tumultuous but happy. By the two lines, “But I hung on like death, Such waltzing was not easy”, as found in the first stanza, the reader is lead to violent assumptions regarding this family’s life. This is largely due to the term ‘death’. Had there been another term in that place, say the clichi?? ‘I hung on for my life’, the connotations that the mind immediately associates to the terms is not nearly so violent. The image would simply be a child dancing quickly with his dizzying whiskey-breath father.

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Instead, the usage of the word ‘death’ ignites the imagination into morbid scenes of less than happy times, contrasting with the image of a father and son dancing haphazardly – drunkenly in regards to the father – around the kitchen. Use of this contradictory imagery, Roethke is able to create a powerful depiction of family life in very little words, as he plays of the reader’s tendency to think in connotations. While Roethke chooses to deal with connotations, the simpler “Bitch” by Kizer, opts to create layers of conflict in order to show the clash of emotions that one feels in the wake of love.

Rather than choose specific words that evoke certain images as Roethke does, Kizer displays two characters that contradict each other, the bitch and the narrator. These two characters represent two sides of the same person – the bitch being the instinctual primal side and the narrator the rational society trained side. Kizer further adds conflict, and thus emphasizing the differences within the two sides, by placing these two characters in a situation that forces their characteristics to collide into each other.

Case in point, initially the bitch is angered by the presence of a once lover while the narrator struggles to maintain composure, scolding the bitch inside, “Where are your manners, I say”. The poem continues as such with the two characters struggling with each other as Kizer continually deflects their opinions. Kizer, in creating this struggle and conflict, displays the need to move on, as displayed by the narrator, and the want to return to the good old times, as displayed by the bitch ultimately. In fact, the part of the bitch fits exactly that of the term, a female wanting a male companion.

Kizer writes the bitch as willing to dwell on the good times, rather than that of the bad, yearning to be a good dog and sits by its master’s, the once lover’s, feet once more. In contrast, Kizer has the narrator wish to gain control once more of the bitch within her and be rid of the man, albeit rather sadly. This play upon the word bitch, as title referring to the bitch within, as a female dog as it certainly is, as well as a female wanting a male with a sense of loyalty that dogs are famously known for, allows Kizer to develop this character with little words, focusing instead on the narrator.

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This develops a feeling more akin to reality as it is easier to relate to the narrator, the dominant character of the overall person, rather than those fleeting instances of instinctual thoughts displayed by the bitch. By creating this schizophrenic character, Kizer is able to display all thoughts that one is inclined to think in such a situation, allowing for easier application to one’s life. This same play of words found in Kizer’s title is also evident in Roethke’s title. The title “My Papa’s Waltz”, leads the reader to believe that the piece is gentle and peaceful.

By leading the reader in with this mindset, the violent imagery impacts the readers with greater power due to the surprise. The immediate contradiction foreshadows the method that Roethke utilizes throughout the poem, the same gentle imagery tinged with violence. Simultaneously, this title haunts the reader into discovering the gentle side that is indicated by the title. Thus, Roethke’s choice brings into focus his methods of conflicting images that these may not be noted if not done so initially. Aside from this, there is further play with this title and the overall content.

The actual rhythm of “My Papa’s Waltz” is in the same 3 beat as the actual dance that the poem refers to. In addition, the words chosen ‘dance’ around the particulars of the event, creating the conflicting imagery that Roethke uses in order to make the work exceed this singular scene. To extend this metaphor, “My Papa’s Waltz” is just a portion of the dance as the event recorded in the poem is a portion of the family’s life. Through the use of contradictory images, Roethke hints at other portions of the family’s life just as the dance still continues.

The swaying of images from good to bad, is akin to the swaying of the dance as well as that of the ups and downs of life. Likewise, the alternate rhyming scheme creates a repetitive to and fro motion, all of which simulates the disorder in which life behaves. However, just as the waltz ends with the couple walking off the dance floor, so does the father and child in “My Papa’s Waltz”. Roethke ends the poem with the child “still clinging” to his father indicating that same positive aspect hidden behind the violent connotations.

Yet, this same line is also utilized by Roethke to end the poem with a “happily ever after” thus indicating that no matter what happens the family still manages to remain intact, for their love is strong and double-sided. While Roethke uses a gentle swaying motion, Kizer utilizes a stronger, passionate argumentative manner where the narrator and bitch are in constant battle with each other. This overall structure emphasizes that there are two opposing sides presented.

Each time the narrator berates the bitch, the next thing she utters to the once lover is reflective of her previous statement to the bitch. She reminds the bitch of the former lover’s “ultimate dismissal,” afterwards saying “It’s nice to know you are doing so well” as a dismissal to the former lover. The bitch, narrator, and former lover are forever in conflict with each other each representing different aspects of love. The whole situation becomes a tug of war, ending only with the narrator dragging the bitch “off by the scruff” away from the former lover.

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"My Papa's Waltz" and "Bitch" by Theodore Roethke and Carolyn Kizer Essay
Artscolumbia
Artscolumbia
It is said that it is the disorder in life that makes living real. Therefore as writing is a mirror of life; the conflict - disorder - in writing creates the feeling of reality and making the poem all the more powerful. In the two poems "My Papa's Waltz" and "Bitch" by Theodore Roethke and Carolyn Kizer, respectively, conflict is used to convey the main idea. The use of contradicting images emulates the fact that often love is double-sided, whether the conflict occurs simultaneously or sequentia
2017-10-24 13:33:39
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