Mario Benedetti’s ‘When We Were Kids’ is written in Uruguayan Spanish and the actual title of this piece is ‘Cuando éramos niños.’ The analysis is based on the translated version of the Spanish text. In this simple poem, Benedetti depicts how the definition of death changes according to a person’s age. Besides, it also touches on the theme of innocence vs experience. A little child’s capacity to look beyond the limits and find the infinity in the void is known to all. However, when the mind gradually progresses toward maturity, the childish definitions of complex things change accordingly. The poem is based on this theme.
Through this piece, Benedetti presents four states of human life. The first and the last stage are permanent. While the middle stages are dynamic and concepts impregnated in the mind get changed. To clarify, the first stage is childhood and the last is old-age. Whereas, the youth is the second step. Thereafter, comes the time of marriage or middle-age. In all of these stages, a person sees death differently. It is not limited to this only. The person also loses the ability to visualize the greatness of simplicity.
You can read the full poem here.
This poem consists of four stanzas. There is a slight difference between the translated version and the Spanish version. In the former, there are six lines in each stanza. While each stanza of the latter is short by a single line. In the verbatim translation, there are no such differences.
There is a specific rhyme scheme in this poem. The second, third, and sixth lines rhyme together. While the fourth line rhymes with the fifth line. In some instances, readers can find the use of slant rhymes. Apart from that, this piece is composed mostly in the iambic meter. But, there is not any specific metrical pattern.
The poem begins with an alliteration. In the very first line, readers can find this device present in the repetition of the “w” sound. It is also an example of consonance. In the line, “a puddle was an ocean, or a magnificent sea,” there is a metaphor. Here, the “puddle” is compared to an ocean or sea.
The first two lines of each stanza are connected by the use of enjambment. There is irony in the last two lines of the second stanza. Benedetti uses the same device in the last two lines of the following stanza. In the last stanza, he uses a metaphor in the usage of the word, “truth”. Besides, there is an epigram in the last line.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
When we were kids
death did not exist; we lived happily.
In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker talks about the mindset of children. When he was a mere child, he looked up to the elderly who were just thirty. At that time, a simple puddle seemed to be an ocean. It also appeared to him that it was also like a magnificent sea. His vision was not controlled by rational thoughts. Besides, the mind was much divine. For this reason, a child can see the divine signs in simple, day-to-day objects.
In childhood, things are always simple. Life is free from all the troubles that make oneself bogged down by grave thoughts. For a child, death means nothing. It does not influence their pure minds. That’s why they can live happily. So, was the speaker in his childhood days.
when we grew up into boys
a word used casually.
When a child grows up and becomes a teenager, there is a subtle change in their thinking process. When the speaker was grown up into a boy, he looked at the elderly who turned forty by then. Previously, as a child, he looked at an old man not thinking much about his age or how he was nearing death. To him, the person was just a human being.
But, as a boy, when he looked at elderly people, he could understand they were growing older gradually. The understanding regarding time and age develops in this phase of boyhood.
The pond replaced the puddle. The speaker could still imagine an ocean or a large, blue sea. But, he found it in a pond, greater than a puddle. In this way, his worldly understanding started to develop and he started to give priority to reality over imagination. Death appeared to him as merely a word used casually.
when we got married
but of the others for now, thankfully.
The third stanza of ‘When We Were Kids’ presents the transition of a boy into manhood. A boy turns into a mature person. He marries and starts a new life. Quite naturally, the elder generation becomes older than before. This is a gradual process that never halts.
As a mature person, he loses the touch with his inner simplicity. Only a little amount of imagination is present in his mind. Whatsoever, according to the poet, a lake appeared to him as “an ocean or a small, calm sea.” Readers can understand how the definition of the vastness grows smaller in each stanza. In the first stanza, the sea was magnificent, large in the second, and becomes a small waterbody in this stanza.
In the case of death, it became a guarantee in the speaker’s life. But, he tried to avoid those thoughts as he was not old enough to think about the oblivion. As long as it was the concern of others, he was happy.
now we’re old
our final destiny…
Lastly, Benedetti talks about old-age. When the speaker turned old, there was nobody to look up to. In the past, there was someone to whom he could look up to. But, now as a grown, old man, he misses them. All who have grown older with the poet, have understood the truth. One has to face death one day and none can avoid the hour waiting for everyone.
Now, for the old speaker, an ocean is just an ocean. It is not even a sea. He has lost the ability to look beyond the human eyes. Imagination burned out. All that remains is bitter rationality. Death begins to a constant friend to remind how long the destination is. Therefore, the poet has realized what is going to be his “final destiny.” It is a metaphorical reference to death.
Mario Orlando Hardy Hamlet Brenno Benedetti Farrugia is the full name of the poet Mario Benedetti. Besides writing poetry, he was a journalist and novelist. In the Spanish-speaking world, he is considered one of the most important writers of Latin America of the latter half of the 20th century. He wrote more than 80 books and his works were published in 20 languages. But, he was not famous in the English-speaking world. In the last ten years of his life, Benedetti suffered from asthma and other health-related problems. It seems the poem, ‘When We Were Kids’ was written in that phase when the poet was experiencing internal strife. It can also be written before this time.
The following poems are similar to the themes present in Benedetti’s poem ‘When We Were Kids’.
- Death is Nothing at All by Henry Scott Holland – This thoughtful poem speaks on the nature of death. Explore more Henry Scott Holland poetry.
- I Have a Rendezvous with Death by Alan Seeger – It’s one of the best-known war poems that describes one’s coming, unavoidable death. Read more Alan Seeger poems.
- When Death Comes by Mary Oliver – It’s one of Mary Oliver’s popular poems. Here, the poet ruminates on the happening after one’s death.
- Nearing Forty by Derek Walcott – This poem describes how age blurs one’s vision and robs one’s imagination. Explore more Derek Walcott poetry.