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By Theodore Roethke

The whiskey on your breath   

Could make a small boy dizzy;   

But I hung on like death:   

Such waltzing was not easy.


We romped until the pans   

Slid from the kitchen shelf;   

My mother’s countenance   

Could not unfrown itself.


The hand that held my wrist   

Was battered on one knuckle;   

At every step you missed

My right ear scraped a buckle.


You beat time on my head   

With a palm caked hard by dirt,   

Then waltzed me off to bed   

Still clinging to your shirt.


Theodore Roethke, "My Papa's Waltz" from Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke.  Copyright 1942 by Heast Magazines, Inc.  Used by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Source: The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke (1961)

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Poet Bio

Theodore Roethke
Many of Theodore Roethke's finest poems evoke the plant and insect life he knew intimately growing up in Michigan around the greenhouses of his family’s floral business. Troubled throughout adulthood by mental instability and alcoholism, he often dwells on his psyche’s vulnerability, but also shows a deft comic touch in treating familial and erotic relationships. From 1948 until his death, he was a legendary teacher at the University of Washington; his posthumous collection The Far Field won the 1964 National Book Award.

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