Both speakers are adults reflecting on how they saw their fathers when they were children, each poem focuses on only an occurrence or event that makes a statement about how their father as a whole. In the case of “Those Winter Sundays,” the speaker chooses to only focus on his winter sundays with his father; the speaker of “My Papa’s Waltz” only describes the ‘waltzes‘ he dances with his father. Although both poems essentially have the same topic, they approach the subject in different ways, revealing how the speaker sees his father at the same time.
In “Those Winter Sundays”, the speaker makes it clear that he refused to acknowledge his father’s love when he was younger, “speaking indifferently to him” and never “thank[ing] him” for “driv[ing] out the cold and polish[ing the speaker‘s good shoes”.
As an adult reflecting back on his childhood, the speaker expresses remorse for not having understood his father’s “austere and lonely” love in his last few lines: “What did] know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?” These lines imply that although he did not understand it earlier with the use of the past tense ‘did,’ the speaker now does understand his father‘s love.
“My Papa’s Waltz” is not as simple Rhythmically, it parallels its title: written in iambic pentameter, its flow is much like that of a waltz. At first glance, the speaker is a young boy addressing his father about the dances they have when his father has “whisky on [his] breath” (L1), in other words, when his father is drunk.
However, through the speaker‘s description of the dance, the darker relationship between the boy and his father is revealed.
While the child does love his father, hanging and clinging on to his father’s shirt representing his reluctance to let go, the speaker‘s diction also suggests an abusive side to his father when he is drunk. The boy says that his father’s hand was battered on one knuckle, hinting at the punches that he had thrown at his child, then going on to say that whenever his father missed, the boy’s “right ear scraped a buckle”. The reader concludes that when the father didn’t miss, it was the boy’s face or body, that was hit full on by the father’s belt buckle. The boy also mentions that his father “beat time on [his] head with a palm caked hard by dirt”, signifying that he was beaten. The speaker disguises his abusive and alcoholic beatings as a waltz so as to add to the adoration and love that he felt when he was younger for his father. However, just as the poem can oscillate between a loving dance or a beating, so to does the speaker’s feelings for his father waltz between loving and fearful in ambivalence.