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Poems and Feelings

Metaphors enable the construction of reality since they designate the context in which a particular entity may be perceived. Such a perception of reality, however, is only valid within a particular contextual scheme. Metaphors thereby serve as tools for the development as well as the production of images in literary texts. In addition to this, metaphors may also be used by the poet in order to illicit specific feelings from the reader which is in accordance to the topic being discussed within a poem.

Examples of this are evident in Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” and “Root Cellar”. In “My Papa’s Waltz”, Roethke illicits the feeling of melancholy on the reader as the reader empathizes with the speaker of the poem who describes his feelings as his father waltzes him off to bed. The speaker states, “We romped until the pans/ Slid from the kitchen shelf…/You beat time on my head/ With palm caked hard by dirt,/ Then waltzed me off to bed/ Still clinging to your shirt” (Roethke, 2000, p. 328).

The melancholy felt by the reader may be understood as a result of poem’s images’ ability to enable the reader to return to his childhood when his father also performed the same nightly ritual with him. As opposed to “My Papa’s Waltz”, Roethke’s “Root Cellar”, on the other hand may illicit a darker feeling on the reader [i. e. feeling of fear]. The aforementioned poem describes the permutation of life in darkness. At the surface, Roethke presents a cellar ensconced in darkness, “dank as a ditch” pervaded by a “congress of stinks” (2005, p. 8).

Such a description combined with the description of the images of the objects within the cellar presents an atmosphere of gradual decay wherein “leaf-molds, manure, [and] lime…kept breathing a small breath” (Roethke, 2005, p. 8). Life thereby continually exists within an atmosphere pervaded by decay since “nothing would give up life” even in the dankness and darkness of the cellar. Roethke, in the poem, thereby enabled the superimposition of life unto death as he associated the end of life with a struggle against darkness [the darkness that pervades the cellar].

Life is thereby visualized and affirmed within an atmosphere pervaded by gradual decay. In both poems, it is important to note that the feelings elicited from the reader is a result of Roethke’s use of imagery to create free association through the use of words that allow the conceptual mapping of a new categorization and thereby a new understanding of experience. In the case of “My Papa’s Waltz”, a feeling of melancholy was elicited from me since it allowed me to associate the event in the poem with my father’s actions when I was a child.

In the case of “Root Cellar”, a feeling of fear was elicited from me as a result of the poem’s description of life in the root cellar as a one pervaded by darkness and continuous struggle. References Roethke, T. (2000). My Papa’s Waltz. Reader Response in Secondary and College Classrooms. Ed. N. Karolides. Np: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Roethke, T. (2005). Root Cellar. Selected Poems. Ed. E. Hirsch. Michigan: U of Michigan P.

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