The poet writes about an incident from his childhood when he was continually confronted with lower class
boys whom his parents disliked and warned him to avoid.
Despite their warnings, however, the boy found himself admiring and possibly even envying certain
elements of their life although he was also afraid of their rough, bullying ways.
ABOUT THE POET
Spender was born in London in 1909. His parents were both literary people, his father being a journalist
while his mother was a painter and a poet.
Theirs was middle class society and typically for those days, they tended to despise the ways of the
working class. His parents' attitude would naturally influence the poet as a young boy -- hence the theme
of this poem.
The poet initially attended Oxford University but did not finish his degree. Indeed, he was very proud of
the fact that he had never ever passed an exam in his whole life.
While he was at Oxford, however, he fell under the influence of the poet W. H. Auden with whom he
did some major collaboration. Later he would also pal up with both Louis MacNeice and Cecil
Day-Lewis, as well has many other rising English poets.
Instead of finishing his degree, Spender spent time in Germany where he studied some of the German
Germany during the 1920s was a hotbed of socialism and Spender became caught up in this political
movement -- becoming for a time an ardent admirer of communism itself.
The world in which he lived, however, quickly came to be dominated by a struggle between fascism and
communism, and Spender became involved in this clash of ideals. Indeed, he even launched himself into
the Spanish Civil War where he opposed the fascist dictator, General Franco.
Despite his lack of a degree, Spender's proven poetic track record allowed him to teach at various
American universities. In 1965 he was appointed "Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry" to the
United States Library of Congress.
He would eventually return to England, however, where he took up a post as Professor of Rhetoric at
Gresham College and, later, Professor of English at the University College in London.
As early as 1962, Spender was awarded a C.B.E. and was knighted in 1983. He died in 1995 at the age
Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:
"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."
- Why should the poet's parents have despised the fact that these children wore "torn
- The poet mentions specifically that, as a result of their rags, the children's thighs showed. Why does
he specifically speak of their thighs and not, say, their tummies? (4)
- What does one learn of the social status of the poet's parents and the children whom they appear to
- Does the poet agree with his parent's attitudes? Explain. (4)
"They ran in the street
And climbed cliffs and stripped by the country streams."
- The parents would have despised these children because they "stripped by the country
streams". At the same time, however, the poet himself appears to have envied them. Be able to
explain their differing points of view. (6)
- What did the parents find wrong about running in the street, climbing cliffs and splashing in country
"They were lithe, they sprang out behind hedges
Like dogs to bark at our world."
- What is meant by "lithe"? (2)
- What is the implication of the words, "they sprang out behind hedges | Like dogs to bark at our
- Why are the children compared to dogs? What figure of speech is this? (3)
- What is the difference between what the poet calls "our world" and the world of the