an afternoon nap

Arthur Yap

‘an afternoon nap’ by Arthur Yap explores the lacunae in the modern education system and how it results in anxiety and stress in students.

Arthur Yap

Nationality: Singapore

Arthur Yap was a Singaporean poet born in 1943 and died in 2006.

His work is marked by linguistic experimentation and playfulness.

Key Poem Information

Central Message: Educating a child should be more humane

Speaker: A third-person omniscient narrator, preferably poet Arthur Yap

Emotions Evoked: Anger, Fear, Frustration, Guilt, Pain, Sadness, Terror

Poetic Form: Free Verse, Narrative, Quatrain

Time Period: 20th Century

In 'an afternoon nap,' poet Arthur Yap reveals how a mother-son relationship is strained by the constant pressure of performing well in academics.

The title of Arthur Yap’s poem, ‘an afternoon nap,’ seems to be a reference to a pleasant afternoon routine of taking a momentary break to replenish one’s lost energy. After reading the poem, it becomes clear how misleading the title is. The poem is all about a boy’s afternoon routine of getting rebuked for his average academic grades. His strict, disciplinarian mother exhibits the qualities of a tiger mom who, no matter what, wants her child to be good at academics and extracurricular activities such as music and physical education.

an afternoon nap by Arthur Yap


‘an afternoon nap’ by Arthur Yap presents the discord in a mother-son relationship caused by the constant pressure of a performance-oriented education system.

The poem begins with a reference to an afternoon routine of a mother and son. Each day while returning from school, the mother rebukes his child for his poor academic grades. She takes every matter concerning her boy’s overall growth very seriously, leaving the most important that is his mental health and well-being. She wants him to be good at everything, be it academics or music. He has to be an all-rounder. In the end, Yap shows how the boy reacts to his mother’s ambitious claims and exorbitant spending in order to fulfill her personal desires through him.

You can read the full poem here.

Structure and Form

The text of Yap’s ‘an afternoon nap’ does not have a regular rhyme scheme or meter. It is written in a conversational manner from the perspective of a third-person omniscient speaker. The complete text is written in free verse and consists of a total of five quatrains. There is only one variation in the line count and that occurs in the fourth stanza which contains five lines. It is important to note the use of lowercase and the absence of any regularity in the rhyming pattern. The absence of a rhyming pattern indicates how troubled the speaker’s mind is after witnessing the same mother-son episode again and again.

Literary Devices

In ‘an afternoon nap,’ Yap utilizes the following literary devices in order to enhance the meaning of the poem.

  • Enjambment: This device is used in a number of instances, beginning with the very first lines where the reader can find the sudden pause by the end of the first line. The sentence continues in line two.
  • Irony: The reader can find the use of irony in, “proclaming her goodness/ she beats the boy.” In these lines, the quality of being good to one’s child is contrasted with the very idea of beating him.
  • Imagery: In this poem, Yap uses a number of auditory images, such as “shouting out his wrongs,” “with raps/ she begins,” “she strikes chords for the afternoon piano lesson,” etc.
  • Metaphor: In the second quatrain, Yap compares the mother’s voice during piano lessons to that of a teacher of the second language, which could be a reference to the English language in the Singaporean education system. The last stanza exhibits a metaphor through the phrase “her expensive taste for education.”

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-8

the ambitious mother across the road

is at it again. proclaming her goodness

she beats the boy. shouting out his wrongs, with raps

she begins with his mediocre report-book grades.

she strikes chords for the afternoon piano lesson,

her voice stridently imitates 2nd. lang. tuition,

all the while circling the cowering boy

in a manner apt for the most strenuous p.e. ploy.

Arthur Yap’s narrative poem, ‘an afternoon nap,’ is about a strict, disciplinarian mother and her stressed and unhappy son. The poem begins with a road scene where the audience can find the mother, in her usual fashion, rebuking the boy. She is “at it again” as if it encompasses one of her duties. She “proclames” her goodness by giving a good beating to her son. The reader must pay special attention to the Middle English term “proclame,” which means “to shout.” Yap does not use “proclaim” in order to depict how the mother reacts to her child’s academic grades.

She uses sharp auditory blows, “raps,” to make the boy listen to her routine admonishment. All that matters to her is how her son performs in tests rather than how well he masters the concepts. It is the grade that determines the worth of her child.

Not only that, but she also wants him to be good at playing the piano. She herself makes him practice piano lessons in the afternoon. If she truly cared about her son, as Yap hints through the title ‘an afternoon nap,’ she should have told him to take a nap after returning from school. Instead, she makes him practice his lessons rigorously by keeping a close watch over him.

Humorously, Yap compares the mother’s voice to that of a teacher of the second language, which is English in Singapore. In the last line of the second quatrain, Yap compares the piano lesson to the “most strenuous” physical education exercise. In this way, the poet hints at the unpleasant tone of her voice and how physically and mentally taxing is her strict nature for the son.

Lines 9-17

swift are all her contorted movements,


leaving him an adagio, clause analysis, little


The third quatrain of ‘an afternoon nap’ further produces some more qualities of the tiger mother. Her tiger parenting not only includes vocal chastisement but also includes gestures that infuse fear in the son’s heart. According to the speaker, her movements are contorted or twisted but swift. Her gestures are ape for different instructions. She does not use any soft, disyllabic words that follow the consonant-vowel order, such as “me,” “to,” “go,” etc. It means she uses long multisyllabic words in order to administer her son.

During the piano lesson, she lumbers around the boy and shrieks at each mistake. He receives a blow from her for every two notes missed. This displays how demanding and strict the mother is. It seems as if the boy is not a human, but an animal, which should be kept in order at regular intervals.

In the fourth stanza, the reader can find how the boy suffers. His tears are dear to him only, not his mother. Furthermore, he takes tuition on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from Miss Low and Madam Lim, respectively. They appear and take away a total of $90 from the family fund. They leave him with a piano lesson (an adagio), clause analysis, and a little pocket money. Those three things he is left with undoubtedly make him sad and broken. He has no time to play or to spend on what he likes.

Lines 18-21

the embittered boy across the road


he begins with her expensive taste for education.

The final quatrain of ‘an afternoon nap’ is written in sharp contrast with the first quatrain. In this stanza, Yap shows the boy’s perspective. The phrase “ambitious mother” is contrasted with “embittered boy.” The audience can find him across the road with his mother. This time he “proclames” his perplexed state by yelling at her. He also shouts out loudly about her wrongs. In response to his mother’s auditory blows, he emotionally tells his mother how “expensive” her taste for his education is.

In this stanza, the term “expensive” is used as a pun. On the first hand, it reveals how much the mother spends on the boy’s education ($90 and more) without caring much about his actual needs. Alternatively, this term also reveals how challenging or costly the mother’s demands are for the son. His mental well-being and happiness have been compromised for academic improvement, learning the English language, and mastering piano lessons.


What is the poem ‘an afternoon nap’ by Arthur Yap about?

Arthur Yap’s free-verse poem ‘an afternoon nap’ is all about the effects of and how it affects the mother-son relationship to a significant degree. Yap shows how a tiger mother’s demands are too high to meet.

What type of poem is ‘an afternoon nap’?

This poem is written in free verse without any set rhyme scheme or meter. There are a total of five stanzas in the poem. The text is composed from the perspective of a third-person speaker, who narrates the habitual afternoon routine of the mother and son.

What is the theme of ‘an afternoon nap’?

The main theme of the poem is the discord in a mother-son relationship caused by the constant pressure of academic and extracurricular performance. In this piece, Yap also explores the themes of tiger parenting, discipline, strictness, and emotional suffering.

How does Arthur Yap comment on the modern educational system in ‘an afternoon nap’?

This poem is set in the contemporary period in which Yap depicts how challenging and mentally taxing it is to cope with the demands of a tiger mother, who only cares about “grades,” not her child’s holistic improvement. In this way, Yap explores how a child’s good academic grades come at the expense of their mental well-being and happiness.

Similar Poetry

Here is a list of some poems that tap into the themes present in Yap’s ‘an afternoon nap. You can also explore more Arthur Yap poems.

Discover more poems about the mother and son relationship.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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