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“Those Winter Sundays” VS. “My Papa’s Waltz” Essay

“Those Winter Sundays,” Robert Hayden and “My Papa’s Waltz,” Theodore Roethke describe the emotional and personal relationship between the son and their father. Both narrators seem to be reflecting on a childhood memory of their father. The two poems, “Those Winter Sundays” and “My Papa’s Waltz,” show a father’s love for his family. “Those Winter Sundays” in line 12, Hayden states, “Polished my good shoes as well.” In the poem “My Papa’s Waltz” (line 13-14), Roethke speaks, “You beat time on my head, with a palm caked hard by dirt.” The narrators indicate that their fathers were hard working and took care of their family. The two poems are parallel in topic, but differ in theme and voice of the narrator and tone.

“My Papa’s Waltz,” and “Those Winter Sundays,” have different themes of a memory both narrators share about their father. The narrator in “My Papa’s Waltz,” is remembering a joyous childhood memory of a dance he shared with his father. “Could make a small boy dizzy” Theodore Roethke (line 2), tells of the fun he is having with his father. “Then waltzed me off to bed, still clinging to your shirt,” Theodore Roethke, (line 15), meaning that he is savoring his time with his dad and not wanting it to end. The narrator in “Those Winter Sundays” is reflecting back on a regretful memory about not showing appreciation for his father. Robert Hayden states, “No one ever thanked him,” (line 5), implicating that his father’s hard work for the family went unnoticed. The two poems’ themes are diverse, as well as the two narrators’ voices.

The two young boys’ voices in “My Papa’s Waltz,” and “Those Winter Sundays,” tell what hard workers their fathers are, but each one of their memory is emotionally different. The narrator’s voice in “My Papa’s Waltz,” is of a happy time with his father. Line 10 states, “The hand that held my wrist was battered on one knuckle.” The narrator suggests his father’s hand is torn up from hard labor. In line 5, Theodore speaks, “We romped until the pans slid from the kitchen shelf,” is telling a fun moment with his father.

In “Those Winter Sundays,” the son also recalls the hard work the father does for his family by stating, “Cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday.” Robert Hayden, (line 3-4). “Sundays too my father got up early,” Robert Hayden (line 1), suggests that the boy is sad that his father never relaxed, not even on Sunday, like most. Both voices are speaking with pride, but the tones between them differ.

While each narrator is describing a memory about his father, their tones leave two very different impressions. The tone of the two poems is not the same for each narrator. “Those Winter Sundays,” has a sad tone with guilt and sorrow. The young boy is evidently remorseful and grief-stricken by the way he treated his father. He regrets not being thankful for the way his dad’s “hands ached,” (line 3) and “speaking indifferently to him,” (line 10). The young boy, now a man, is remorseful for not showing appreciation for his father’s hard work when he was boy, this shows in line 13, “What did I know, what did I know?” Robert Hayden. The poem “My Papa’s Waltz,” has more of a loving tone. The narrator is grateful for the time he spent with his father, and has embraced this memory of the “waltz” they shared.

Even though Theodore Roethke and Robert Hayden have a different recollection of a childhood memory about their father, they both appreciate their father’s hard work and time spent together. The narrator in “My Papa’s Waltz,” shows he cherishes “waltzing” with his father by stating, “Still clinging to his shirt.” Theodore Roethke (line 16). This shows that he did not want to let go. In “Those Winter Sundays,” Robert Hayden shows his love by stating, “What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?” During his childhood, he was too young to understand how hard his father worked to take care of him, but now has a clear understanding. The two poems are parallel in topic, but differ in theme and voice of the narrator and tone.

Works Citied
Hayden, Robert. “Those Winter Sundays.” The Norton Introduction to Literature.783 Roethke, Theodore. “My Papa’s Waltz.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. 791-792 Mays, Kelly J. ed. The Norton
Introduction to Literature. New York: New York, 2013. Print


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