Stephen Spender

(Poem No.39 of my favourite short poems)


Sir John Everett Millais … ‘Bubbles’ 1886 – Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight

My Parents Kept me from Children Who Were Rough

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.

. . . by Stephen Spender

Spender’s disability of having a club foot and a stammer intensely affected his childhood memories, particular those of rejection by his peers.  As a grown man and a distinguished poet and author, he expressed those feelings of early rejection, of being an outsider in this moving poem which, in some ways, is akin to Philip Larkin’s remembered distaste felt for the way his parents had brought him up (See: ‘This Be The Verse’   ).  Spender regretted his parents keeping him in a ‘bubble’, protecting him as they saw it, while all the time he had wanted just to be ‘one of them’.

Some of my readers will recall that I used Spender’s phrase “threw words like stones” in my recent poem:  ‘The Black House’  (q.v.).



9 thoughts on “Stephen Spender

  1. A classic poem and thanks for sharing it Roland. I wonder how it would have turned out for him if he hadn’t had his parents protection.

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  2. Both poems favourites of mine. Thankyou! Reading the one you wrote brought back that illicit thrill of playing with the the ‘rough kids’ but the peace and safety of the familiarity of home. So well described.


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