My Parents kept me from children who were rough
by Stephen Spender
My parents kept me from children who were rough
and who threw words like stones and who wore torn clothes.
Their thighs showed through rags. They ran in the street
And climbed cliffs and stripped by the country streams.
I feared more than tigers their muscles like iron
And their jerking hands and their knees tight on my arms.
I feared the salt coarse pointing of those boys
Who copied my lisp behind me on the road.
They were lithe, they sprang out behind hedges
Like dogs to bark at our world. They threw mud
And I looked another way, pretending to smile,
I longed to forgive them, yet they never smiled.
This poem could be a personal or biographical depiction of Spender's early life suffering the disability of a club foot and a speech impediment. The use of the first person, stark contrasts, and ambiguity give us a vivid picture of a child troubled by a superiority/inferiority complex.
While his parents are condescending towards the rough coarse children, the child appears envious of their carefree liberty, their unbridled animal prowess and uninhibited playfulness, yet resentful of their bullying behaviour to him.
We can visualise the persona through antithesis. He is everything that they are not; softly spoken (words like stones), well dressed (torn clothes, rags), passive ( they ran and climbed), inhibited - modesty (they stripped by country streams), weak (muscles of iron), well mannered (salt coarse pointing) lisp (parodied by copying), clumsy (lithe), and friendly ( hostile- they never smiled).
His attempts at conciliation and acceptance are rebuffed but he appears to blame his parents for psychologically damaging him by over protection or shielding him from a natural childhood. While their superior attitude (snobbery?) has excluded him from mainstream society he ambivalently identifies with his parents by having the boys spring “like dogs to bark at our world”.
Who is more to blame, the boys or his parents? Good literature avoids giving answers rather allows the responder to do their own thinking and reach their own conclusions.
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