Violence in Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz”
And Komunyakaa’s “Nude Interrogation”
Yosef Komunyakaa’s “Nude Interrogation” and Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s
Waltz” are poems that may initially be read as both warm and playful in tone, but upon
further examination, are strikingly violent.
In Komunyakaa’s “Nude Interrogation”, a
young man’s erotic experience with a woman is seen from the perspective of the man as a
lover, but also as from the perspective of the man as a wounded veteran of the Vietnam
War. In Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz”, the character recalls his time with his father from
the perspective of himself as a young boy, but also as an adult looking back on the
disastrous dance; thus, there are dual tones- one of unbridled joy and pleasure, and one of
terror. Roethke and Komunyakaa both express the various levels of joy and violence by
offering speakers with two contrasting perspectives. Furthermore, to interconnect the two
tones and perspectives simultaneously and effectively, Komunyakaa uses such literary
devices as tone, dialogue, color, and symbolism, while Roethke uses tone, rhyme, diction,
and symbolism to do so.
A first read of “Nude Interrogation” may only offer a sensual, chimerical tone.
The colors in the poem are soothing: the belle’s “pale muslin blouse”, her “rainbow
miniskirt”, and “sky blue panties” (Komunyakaa, 3079-3080). Other pieces crucial to
tone and mood appeal to the senses, such as the incense, “hanging a slow comet of