Timothy Winters by Charles Causley is a ballad written in the 1950s about a boy who was afflicted with misfortune during a time where suffering was considered to be a part of the past. Charles Causley wrote this poem after the Second World War when Britain was trying to provide security and care to its citizens, building them up in the aftermath of war. Most people were trying to forget the trauma and were willingly allowing themselves to get caught up in the government’s optimism of a bright future for them all. Unfortunately, not everyone was appropriately taken care of as promised; there were still people like Timothy Winters who continued to suffer in these times of optimism and hope. Causley highlights the neglect of such people, bringing attention to their existence in a society that is trying to move on. The full poem can be read here.
Timothy Winters Analysis
Charles Causley begins his poem by introducing the main character in a natural setting: a child in school. This allows the reader to comprehend that even if his situation is different in the rest of the poem, he is still just a boy in school. This also emphasizes how wrong it is that this boy who is suffering is presented in such a normal setting without getting the help he obviously needs. He is described to have wide eyes and big ears, “and teeth like splinters”, painting the image of an unusually unattractive boy. The diction in this stanza is tremendously imperative in understanding the character of Timothy Winters. His eyes are described “as wide as a football pool” dramatically highlighting his malnourishment, suggesting that a sunken face made his eyes appear gigantic. His ears are described as “bombs” indicating that their size must have been disproportionate to his face, causing them to look more like weapons instead of body parts. His teeth are illustrated as “splinters” depicting poor oral hygiene and care. At the end of the stanza, he is labeled as “a blitz of a boy”, implying that he was a boy who created an atmosphere that was uncomfortable just by his presence, for the reason that the need to address such negligence and poverty felt like an attack on the optimism of the rest of the country.
The second stanza starts by focusing on the discoloration of his body, which could be another reference to his poor health conditions, in addition to possibly also pointing out the fact that there can be a “Timothy Winters” anywhere and of any skin tone (ethnicity). His hair is described as an exclamation mark, highlighting that it was an obvious cry to be noticed; his appearance was drawing people’s attention in desperate hopes of help and support. His clothes are described as frightening, because of their condition, his pants or “britches” even had holes in them. The diction in this stanza emphasizes the extremity of his condition to bring attention to the fact that there were people who were still truly suffering and he sincerely deserved help. He was a boy who stuck out and could not easily be overlooked, yet he was disregarded by everyone around him.
In the third stanza, Causley takes the reader back to the classroom to point out that he is still talking about an ordinary boy in a typical classroom. He describes Timothy’s learning experience as absent for the reason that he will not be hearing a single word when the teacher speaks. When a person is distracted by poverty and destitution outside the classroom it makes it very difficult for the child to connect to the lessons being taught in class. Line ten mentions that he “shoots down dead the arithmetic-bird”, this could mean two very different things. Following the main idea of the previous line, it could mean that he is terrible with his arithmetic. However, it is more probable that Causley is pointing out that even though he cannot connect to the lesson, he “shoots down” the arithmetic bird successfully because he is intelligent. This draws attention to the notion that people who are fighting with difficult circumstances on a daily basis could exceed in life if given the same opportunities as those around them. The poem continues to relate that timothy’s situation is so pitiable seeing that he “licks the pattern off his plate” because he is so hungry. Causley is quick to point out that the Welfare State should be stepping up to the plate as promised to make sure this doesn’t happen, yet here is Timothy Winters who has never even heard of the Welfare state. This is significant because most of Britain’s optimism after the war was driven by the promises of the Welfare State and their claims of being responsible for the care of the people for their entire lives, but obviously, some people didn’t fall into the caring hands of this welfare state and suffered miserably. By claiming that Timothy had not even heard of the Welfare State Causley is putting an emphasis on just how far he was from actually getting help
Stanza Four continues to accentuate just how difficult and real Timothy’s life is. Line thirteen specifically points out that he had “bloody feet”; this is significant because it heavily implies that he cannot afford the basic necessities of life including a good pair of shoes. A person’s feet are their foundation, it is the base on which they stand and are able to move, having bloody feet indicates that Timothy does not have a strong base. The foundation on which he should be thriving as a young boy by going to school and making something of himself is bloody because he is ignored and overlooked even though he visibly needs help. Causley emphasizes Timothy’s distressing condition by giving him the address of “Suez Street” (which was pretty much a war zone/conflict area at the time) and proclaiming that he “sleeps in a sack on the kitchen floor”. Line sixteen just reiterates Causley’s message that people like Timothy exists but are simply being ignored.
Here, in stanza five, the readers are given a peek into Timothy’s home life. His father is basically a drunkard, his mother ran away with a “bombardier” (in other words a corporal), his grandma also seems to have an issue with alcohol and the only thing left for Timothy is aspirin. It is the complete picture of a dysfunctional family. Unfortunately, he gets the short end of the stick in his family life too, seeing that he has no form of support from anyone. This stanza underlines his neglect and lets the reader know that those who suffer and cannot pull themselves out of their difficulties has a lot to do with how much support they receive from their country, their community, and their families.
In stanza six, Causley introduces a new character and perhaps a new hope for Timothy from the reader: The welfare worker. Contained in this short stanza is the enormous truth of our world. While this social worker lies awake at night presumably thinking about Timothy and his condition, he can’t do anything about his circumstances because the “law’s as tricky as a ten-foot snake”. In the delicate time of rebuilding their country the government probably didn’t want to shine a light on the issue of neglect for some of the population, and so even those willing to help could not do much to improve the situation. Consequently, Timothy winters continues to “drink his cup” meaning take what he gets and slowly grows up in these unbelievable state of affairs.
Stanza seven is a little different than the rest because Causley takes his focus away from the responsibility of governments and communities to care and changes direction to religion and spirituality. Here, he mentions that in the morning prayers the “master” prays for “children less fortunate than ourselves” and Timothy has the loudest response or “roar” of “Amen!” in the whole room. This is significant for two important reasons. Firstly, it demonstrates Timothy’s tender heart, seeing that even after what his situation is like he still thinks that he should sincerely pray for those of even less fortunate than himself. Secondly, his “roaring” presents his enthusiasm for everyone in the room to pray for children who are less fortunate, including himself because he still has the hope of change.
The final stanza of this poem is quite heartfelt as it is simply a prayer for Timothy Winters and those like him. Causley implores all or any angel for that matter, to come to hear the passionate amen of Timothy because he is suffering and the only place that’s seems of any optimism is prayer. This allows the reader to also take a moment to realize the reality of such people and to at least pray for them if they cannot do anything more.