‘A Child Of Mine’ by Edgar Guest is a thirty-six line poem that is contained within one block of text. The poem is told from the perceptive of God who is asking a parent or parents, to take care of “His child.” About two-thirds of the way through the text, at line 26, God relays to the reader the possible answer given by the prospective parent[s]. As one would expect they are enthused at the possibility and ready to take on both the certain joys and griefs.
One of the most prominent techniques that Guest used in this text is anaphora, or the repetition of the first word of a line. This occurs most notably in lines twenty-two and twenty-three as well as twenty-nine and thirty. In the first instance the word “Nor” is used by God to inform the parents that they are not going to be able to be sad when he comes to claim his child again. In the second instance the parents are responding and reaffirming to God that they will do everything they can to take care of the child.
Summary of A Child Of Mine
The poem begins with the speaker, God, telling the listener, a parent, or parents, that they are about to be given a child. This child belongs to God and is only coming to earth for a short period. While he is there, God asks that the parents give him as much love as they are able and teach him everything they can. God has sought these particular people out as the ideal parents and asks that when the child dies and returns to heaven, they do not “hate” him. The child never really belonged on earth anyway— death is always right around the corner.
‘A Child Of Mine’ concludes with the parents agreeing to God’s terms and willingly accepting the burden of future grief. They also pledge to love the child until the day he dies.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of A Child Of Mine
I will lend you, for a little time,
A child of mine, He said.
It may be six or seven years,
Or twenty-two or three.
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker, who is later revealed to be God, tells the listener[s] that he plans to “lend” them one of his children. A reader should take note of the use of the word “lend” in these lines. The child will go to new parents who will take care of him for a time. The relationship is only temporary though. God is the true father of this child. The mortal parents are there for two purposes, first to “love [him] while he lives” on earth and then to “mourn” his loss once he has died.
God makes sure to tell the parents that he is unable to give them a fixed period of time they have with the boy. It could be “six or seven years” or it could be more. The temporary, unsatisfactory arrangement Guest has set out is the perfect miniaturized picture of the uncertainty of life and love.
But will you, till I call him back,
As solace for your grief.
In the second set of lines the speaker goes on to ask the parent[s] if they are willing to “Take care of him” until “He” calls the child back. This is a reference to the child’s death, which is really just God “calling” him back to Heaven. His time on earth is short, but will end with his return to his true father’s side. In addition to the “charms” the child brings to his parents on earth, they should be pleased his life will end with a trip back to Heaven.
This stanza also contains an allusion to what other positive things the future will hold. There will be “lovely memories” the family shares together. These moments are left undefined so that any reader can insert their own experience into the narrative. The words apply to all parents all over the world. The memories, along with the knowledge of what death means, should comfort the parents when the child is dead.
I cannot promise he will stay,
In search for teachers true.
In the next section, God explains why he is sending this child to earth at all. He states that there are “lessons taught” on earth that he wants ”this child to learn.” The experience is the most important part of his stay. It was crucial for God to find the correct “teachers.” They must be “true” or good and honest.
And from the throngs that crowd life’s lanes,
To take him home again?
Lines nineteen through twenty-four speak on how God found these particular parents and what exactly he wants them to do. First, he tells them that they were selected from “throngs” of people in “life’s lanes.” This phrase is meant to make the parents see how important they are to the education of the child and his growth. They were not selected randomly, God can see their potential.
In the next four lines, the speaker walks through different parts of the relationship he sees as being the most important. First, God asks that the parents give the child “all [their] love.” There should be nothing held back between them, even though they know he will die at some point. God adds that in the end, when the child is dead, they should not think their “labour” was in “vain,” or purposeless. Everything they did and experienced, and even the heartbreak they felt, was for a good reason.
Guest concludes this stanza by having God ask the parents not to “hate” him when he comes to take the child “home again.” This shows that God has some understanding of what the separation will be like. His divinity is more human than it is often made out to be.
I fancied that I heard them say,
‘Dear Lord, Thy will be done!’
And for the happiness we’ve known,
Forever grateful stay.
The next set of lines begins with God musing to himself on what the response of the parents might be. This reveals that the intended listeners of this piece are unable to hear the words. His monologue has been more for his own sake than for the mortal parents about to receive a child. The next lines are what God imagines the parents say in return, this is his ideal response.
In his mind, they reply that his “will” shall “be done.” There is no hesitation in the response. They are ready to take on the trouble, grief, and happiness that raising a child will bring. The parents want to “risk” unhappiness in order to “love him while [they] may.” They vow to “shelter him with tenderness” and be “grateful” for whatever happiness they receive.
But should the angels call for him,
Much sooner than we’ve planned.
We’ll brave the bitter grief that comes,
And try to understand.
In the final four lines, the parent’s response continues. Here, they confirm what God asked of them. They state they will not hate God for taking the child back to heaven no matter when it happens. The parents are planning to be brave when the “bitter grief…comes” and do their best to “try to understand” the will of God.
Guest has set out an ideal spiritual relationship between God and humankind. In this relationship, God is understanding of human emotions and even takes the time to explain his decisions. On the human side, parents submit to the will of God without questions and are grateful for what they receive.