My Parents by Stephen Spender Analysis



This poem is a reflection on an experience in the childhood of Spencer. The recalls his parents keeping him sheltered from the children of the community he seems to be a weak child while the children in this community were wilder, he never got the chance to go out and play with them and even if he did he seems not to be accepted by them. The bullying he endured as a young child by these neighborhood kids was one of the reasons why they kept him away, they would constantly make fun of his lisp, threw dirt at him, etc. Spencer expresses his desire to make amends with these children but they never gave him an opportunity to do so.

Stanza by Stanza Analysis

Stanza 1:

The poem begins with the narration by a child Spencer “My parents kept me from children who were rough,// Who threw words like stones and wore torn clothes”. Spencer seems to be a sheltered child, he also seems to be from a household that was more affluent. The first line shows what has happened to Spencer, by saying his parents kept him from these children it could be that they were protecting him. The children in the community seem to be poor and would often make fun of Spencer. “There thighs showed through rags they ran in the streets” this line also enforces the notion that these children might be poorer than Spencer. “And climbed cliffs and stripped by the country streams” the activities in this line are what Spencer may have considered being rough.

Stanza 2:

This stanza expresses the fear Spencer had of these children how they bullied him “I feared more than tigers their muscles like iron” Spencer equating their muscles to irons shows how much stronger these boys were than him and it also gives an image of a weak and fragile Spencer. “There jerking hands and knees tight on my arms” they physically bullied Spencer as well as pinning him down to beat him, and also verbally abusing him. Spencer who had a lisp “I feared the salt coarse pointing of those boys// Who copied my lisp behind me on the road” this stanza shows how much Spencer really feared the ridicule of the neighborhood children.


Stanza 3

“They were lithe they sprang out behind hedges, // Like dogs to bark at my world.” The word lithe means the boys were agile. They would be quick when they came out from behind the bushes, they may not have been noticed by Spencer until they started to tease him.

They may not have literally “barked at his world” but meaning the loud abusive bullying that invades Spencer’s space fighting him, making him uncomfortable and sad. “They threw mud// While I looked the other way, pretending to smile.” We can see that even though Spencer was bullied by these boys he also longed for acceptance, he may have also been putting up a brave face. Turning the other was also an allusion to turning the other cheek meaning to forgive, “turning the other way’ trying to look past what they did. ”

I longed to forgive them but they never smiled” as we said before he wanted to forgive them, but they never showed him any kindness or even a smile. He longed to forgive them but he never did as he had no reason to, he longed to make friends but he was never able to.

Figurative devices

Simile :  

  • “Who threw words like stones” the words the boys use where harsh and hurt when they would say them.


  • “muscles like iron” they boys were strong and Spence may have not been strong enough to fight them off so to him they were much stronger than him and it would hurt to be hit by them.


  • “Like dogs to bark at my world” not literal dogs but they were loud and unrelenting like dog’s barks frightening and offensive getting ready to attack.



  • “the salt coarse pointing of those boys” salt is rough and salt in wounds sting. The pointing by the boys would point and it would hurt emotionally for spencer.



  • “While I looked the other way” an allusion to Jesus turning the other cheek as a form of forgiveness, like Spencer wanting to forgive the boys.


Possible Themes 

  1. Parent-Child Relationship
  2. Childhood Experiences
  3. Forgiveness
  4. Bullying

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