My Parents by Stephen Spender

Sir Stephen Spender, in full Sir Stephen Harold Spender, (born February 28, 1909, London, England—died July 16, 1995, London), English poet and critic, who made his reputation in the 1930s with poems expressing the politically conscience-stricken, leftist “new writing” of that period.

Read the poem by Spender

My Parents
My parents kept me from children who were rough
Who threw words like stones and wore torn clothes
Their thighs shone 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
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 my world. They threw mud
While I looked the other way, pretending to smile
I longed to forgive them but they never smiled.

Stephen Spender had a foot affliction and he lisped while he spoke; this made his parents extra careful about exposing him to rough handling and bullying in school. A reading of this poem however makes us wonder whether he approved of that move entirely. He seems to have been ambivalent about the whole issue. He was not comfortable with the roughness of the street children either.

Metaphorical Inference

This poem has strong autobiographical overtones. Stephen Spender had a club foot and he lisped while talking. His parents tried to shelter him from the rough street children. While Spender seems to have been uncomfortable with their coarse speech and rude gestures, he admired the strength of their bodies and the freedom they enjoyed. They could come and go as they liked and they were uninhibited (“stripped by the country streams”). His overtures of friendship were rebuffed by them; perhaps they mistrusted people of his class. The tone is in parts wistful and there is a longing for physical perfection that he could see in the children.

Prepare a post in your blog with the following tasks.

Task 1. 

How do you think he might felt while going to school?

Task 2

Watch the video which analyses the poem. Take notes and publish them in your blog.

Task 3

Here a summary of each and every stanza.

-Find a quote to prove each of them.

-Find a literary device in each stanza and explain what the writer is using that device for.

This webpage may be of great help

Stanza 1

The poet’s parents sought to protect him from the street children. They were rude in speech and were dressed in rags. They were uninhibited and stripped off their clothes and swam in the country rivers.

Stanza 2

The speaker feared the brute strength of the boys. They were muscular and did not hesitate to use their arms and legs. The poet was also scared of their mocking ways. They laughed behind his back, imitating his lisp.

Stanza 3

The boys were like vandals; they threw mud at people and pounced on them. But despite all this, the speaker was forgiving. He wanted to be friendly and smiled at them. But they did not reciprocate the friendly overtures.

Task 4

Themes: Social Inequality (Social segregation/Class differences/Isolation). Explain how this is portrayed in the poem. Quote!

Task 5

Choose another poem you have studied which shares some characteristics with this one and write a 150 words text. Quote to prove ideas.

Task 6 (In class July 2)

Write an essay

Explore the ways in which the poet vividly presents his childhood experience in the poem.

In your answer you should explore:

-The poet’s thoughts and feelings about the bullies

-The portrayal of the boys

The overall impact of the poem on you


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