The poem, Warning to Parents by Elizabeth Jennings, though was written in 1964, it has relevancy to every parents even today. It talks about the stage when the parents have to be extra cautious and protective. This poem suggests that while every parent does its best to protect its children, the day comes when the latter gets exposed to the outer world, and starts to involve themselves there in spite of your warnings to them.
The speaker here addresses parents and warns them to avoid letting their children know and be exposed to terror and violence, and make use of night lights so that the children don’t get scared at night. But on the other hand, the speaker herself says that despite your warnings, they do get themselves engaged in such behaviors, for violence and fear are instinctual and they do get surfaced some or other time in their lives.
Warning to Parents Analysis
Save them from terror; do not let them see
And be as impervious as you and me.
In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker warns the parents that since children are very innocent, so every bad or good thing can easily imprint on their minds. It is for this reason; it is the responsibility of every parent to keep an eagle eye on their children, and let them not to be exposed to the outer world, which is full of violence and fear.
The speaker further says that it is your responsibility to keep them away from the terror and violence, and not allowing them to see the ghosts, hiding behind the stairs. By “ghost” the speaker may mean the horrifying objects or things that may frighten the children at night. The “ghost behind the stairs” is the symbol of fear, while the “hidden crime” symbolizes violence.
The speaker does say though one day they, on being grown up, will grow out/come out of this horrible and horrifying world, and become as impervious (resistant) to them as you and me have been now, it is still our responsibility to keep them away from the scary things and the cruel aspects of the world outside.
Be sure there is a night-light close at hand;
May hint at things no child can understand.
In this second stanza, the speaker suggests the parents that you as a responsible parents, should make sure that a night-light is keeping close to them (children); so that they can face the plot of that old film that was full of fears and scary things. If they remain under the light, the darkness will not overcome them, and cause them to think of the plot of any such film that created fear in them.
When they are in light, they will also not recall the ceiling that they might have seen with is long uneven crack. The speaker, with the use of phrase like “long uneven crack” and “plot of that old film” tries to create thrill in the poem though his intention is not to apprehend its readers in view of the theme and title of the poem. With use of previously mentioned words, the speaker may also want to tell that the children are very innocent during their adulthood, hence, we must keep them away from the things that may cause phobia of something in their minds.
You do all this and are surprised one day
To him. You find it hard to watch him play
All through the poem, the speaker has tried to tell parents to not let their children face the rampant evils in the society, and even suggests them to use every possible measures to keep them away from the violence and fear, but on the other side she also tells that whatever measures you adopt, the day will come when they will be exposed to the evils, violence and fears in the outer world.
And in this third stanza, she says that when your children will grow older, you will find out how they learnt to gloat on Belsen and on tortures. The things that you tried to keep away from them are now close to them, and they are automatically getting involved in them.
Let me tell you here that Jennings, instead of worrying about the composition of an elegant and sophisticated poem full of colorful imagery, she here tries to change the attention and concentration of her readers towards the torture and Belsen (Belsen concentration camp), the camps of Nazi Germany used during World War II. These camps were notorious for their cruelty, horrible consequences and contemptable conditions for the prisoners.
So, though the parents do try to protect their child/children from learning about and familiarizing with the evils in society, they get to learn it with the passage of time. In actuality, all your protective measures and learning go waste when they step out from their own internal world to the external world.
With thoughts like these, and find it harder still
And felt along your veins the wish to kill.
In this fourth stanza of the poem, the speaker says that when you find your child/children encountering all such fears and evils, you too find it hard to remember the time when you were “caught from the cruel past a childish glow”—which means you too forget how you experienced when you were in the same stage, and felt along your veins the wish to kill.
In order to make the poem flow easily, Jennings makes use of rhyme. To bring about that effect she too makes use of the technique of alliteration through the use of the letter ‘c’, “caught from the cruel past a childish glow”. The speaker here reminds you the time when you too were afraid of the darkness and fears that went along your veins.
Fears are more personal than we had guessed –
We only need ourselves; time does the rest.
The above two lines are final couplet, which tells that fears are our own, they are our own personal feelings, and they can only be overcome with the passage of time. So, where our childhood is full of fears, time teaches us how to face the fearful things, and how we can overcome the social evils.
Imagery and Metaphors
In “Warning to Parents”, Elizabeth Jennings resorts to several images. Where in the first stanza, the poet creates the image of vulnerable children who get to be protected by “The ghost behind the stairs, and the hidden crime”, in the second stanza, he creates it by: “Be sure there is a night-light close at hand;/The plot of that old film may well come back.”
Style & Sentence Structure
The poem, “Warning to parents” uses an ordinary style, as the poet, all through the poem, has used everyday vocabulary as to parenting and violence, while in terms of sentence structure, it has a very regular type of structure, which is hardly disturbed by expressions and words meant to lay emphasis.
Besides, there are five stanzas, four quatrains, and a final couplet in the poem in addition to the fixed rhythm and rhyme schemes; a feature which is a little typical of Elizabeth Jennings’s writing style.
The quatrains follow the end rhyme scheme ABBA, also called as enclosed rhyme. This implies that in the quatrains, each first line rhymes with the fourth and the ones in the middle rhyme together.
About Elizabeth Jennings
Born in Boston, Elizabeth Jennings started her journey of poem-writing after having been encouraged by one of her schoolteachers. She was also considerably impressed by the poetry of her uncle whose poetry she read on frequent basis and found them too melodic and interesting to avoid. Though a large number of poems that she composed during her early age were inspired by Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, G. K. Chesterton’s “Battle of Lepanto”, and then the odes of Keats, after this she never looked back, continued to succeed in her poetry career.
Besides Coleridge, G. K. Chesterton and Keats, her poems were also later influenced by Edwin Muir and Robert Frost.
When you read through Jennings’s poems, you find the complete lack of decoration, vagueness and any type of mystification. All her poems are in fact strongly logical and full of emotional sensitivity.
Jennings’s poems have a very easy to understand and layman type style and structure in her poems. She uses words that can be easily understood by every reader. There is no literary decoration and pretentiousness in her poems as others have in their poems.