Who is the intended audience in "My Papa's Waltz"?

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The poem sounds like he is addressing his father, saying that "we romped" around the kitchen. On first glance the line "my right ear scraped a buckle." could mean his father is abusing him and the romp is fact a metaphor for a beating he is taking. Some people interpret...

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The poem sounds like he is addressing his father, saying that "we romped" around the kitchen. On first glance the line "my right ear scraped a buckle." could mean his father is abusing him and the romp is fact a metaphor for a beating he is taking. Some people interpret the poem in that manner. However, the same line could also indicate that he is only as tall as his father's waist and, struggling to keep up with his drunk father's steps, the buckle of his father's belt is scraping against his ear.

In these terms, it is difficult to know the poem's intended audience. With a biographical reading, we know it's probably not his father because the poem was written in the 1940s and the poet's father died in 1923. If it is about an abusive father, his intended audience could be other people who have suffered similar abuse. If it's about a happy family scene, his intended audience could be his family, thanking them for great times and reminding them of his complex but fun father. Most likely, however, the intended audience is a general one, which is probably why the poem is so open to interpretation.

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The speaker in this poem addresses his father; this is established in the first line of the first stanza with the use of the personal possessive pronoun "your." 

"The whiskey on your breath   
Could make a small boy dizzy;   
But I hung on like death:   
Such waltzing was not easy."
 
In the subsequent stanzas, the speaker speaks of "you" (his father) and "me" (the speaker), as he recalls their roughhousing when he was a boy.  He remembers his father, who has apparently come home from a day of labor and an after-work drink, clumsily waltzing him around the kitchen. His father has the hands of a laborer, with a skinned knuckle and dirt-caked hands. He recalls his mother frowning at the ruckus they are causing and how he clung to his father's shirt as he "waltzed me off to bed."  
 
So while the poem addresses the father, it is, as all published poems are, intended for a broader audience to appreciate.
 
 
 
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