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Stephen Spender

My parents kept me from children who were rough

Questions of an even more challenging nature!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 3 March 2014
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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.


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 poets.

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 of 86.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

"I feared the salt coarse pointing of those boys
Who copied my lisp behind me on the road."
  • What does the poet mean when he speaks of "the salt coarse" pointing of the boys? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What language device is being used in the expression "the salt coarse pointing of those boys"? What is being compared to what? (3)

[Need help?]

  • Use just ONE WORD for "they copied my lisp". (1)

[Need help?]

"They threw mud
And I looked another way, pretending to smile,
I longed to forgive them, yet they never smiled."
  • Why does the poet-child "look another way"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why does he only pretend to smile? Why does he not smile properly? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why does the poet as a child only "long to forgive" the children? Why does he not forgive them? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Is there any reason why the children themselves never smiled? (4)

[Need help?]


What do you notice about the style of this poem? (10)

[Need help?]

This is a poem about class, and about friction arising out of class and its misplaced ethical values.
  • What does one mean by "class" and "friction arising out of class"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Would you agree that the main theme of this poem is indeed about "misplaced ethical values"? (10)

[Need help?]

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