‘Little Boy Crying’ by Mervynn Morris is a four stanza poem that is separated into sets of lines that vary in length. The first stanza contains seven lines, while the following two contain six. The poem concludes with a short one-line phrase that attempts to wrap up the entire theme of the piece.
Each stanza of this piece is dedicated to one particular part of a young child’s experience. The first describes his general state of being and his initial reaction to being slapped by his father. The second turns to the father and depicts him through the eyes of the child. He is an“ogre” to him in this moment.
The final six-line stanza is told closer to the father’s perspective and describes how he longs to comfort his child, but must maintain his composure to ensure the lessons he is trying to teach are not lost.
The poem begins with the boy’s emotions and his lack of control over how he acts, and reacts, to things that happened around him. One moment he is laughing and the next he is crying as his father slaps him. The reaction from the father is described in the third stanza, but the second is devoted to the boy’s feelings towards his father.
He sees him as being a monster, an “ogre,” for having hit him. He imagines all the different ways that he could kill his father, as if he is part of an imaginary world.
The final six lines stanza speaks of the father’s love for his son and how that love has driven him to want to teach him important lessons. This particular lesson involves not playing in the rain. He wants to reach out and comfort his son, but restrains himself in an attempt to teach the child not to be foolish.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of Little Boy Crying
Your mouth contorting in brief spite and hurt,
your laughter metamorphosed into howls,
you stand there angling for a moment’s hint
of guilt or sorrow for the quick slap struck.
In the first stanza of this piece, the narrator of the poem is able to look into the mind of the child, who is the main character, and describe the intense emotions he is feeling. He is young, only three, and is unable to control himself.
The stanza emphasizes the transition from laughter to sadness, fear, and anger. The first lines describe the physical appearance of the child as he laughs and how his mouth “contorts” into all sorts of interesting shapes.
The “laughter” that he was only just enjoying quickly turns to “howls” and his “recently relaxed” body becomes tight. The poem does not give any further description about what it is the child has done until the end, but one of his parents, (later revealed to be the father), has slapped him.
The child’s eyes begin to “swim” with tears. They are so numerous they fall from his face and hit his feet. His second reaction, after crying, is to pause and hope for some measure of guilt to show itself on his parent’s face.
The ogre towers above you, that grim giant,
empty of feeling, a colossal cruel,
chopping clean the tree he’s scrambling down
or plotting deeper pits to trap him in.
The child is going to be disappointed though as the “ogre” who is standing over him at this moment shows none of the guilt the child is hoping for her. This person, who is later shown to be the father, seems to be beyond love at this point. He is not a member of the family, he is a “giant,” a monster to be abhorred.
The child looks like the father and feels that he must be “Empty,” and if he contains anything it is “colossal cruel[ty].” At this moment the child “hates” his father. There is no room for any other emotion in his young mind.
The child’s mind works creatively, acting off the image of his father as an ogre. He imagines he can “trap him” in a pit, or cut down a tree he is “scrambling down.” These imaginations help the child move through the emotions of sadness and anger.
You cannot understand, not yet,
the hurt your easy tears can scald him with,
with piggy-back or bull fight, anything,
but dare not ruin the lessons you should learn.
In the final set of lines, the speaker turns to the thoughts of the father but describes them as if from a distance. There is no true emotion in them, only a description of emotion.
From this new perspective, the reader is able to grasp why it is the father acted in this way. Why a reader might be wondering, does he not reach down and comfort his child? The speaker knows a reader will be just as confused as the child is, and makes a point to describe what’s being done.
First, though, the speaker states that the child’s “tears” have the ability to “scald” the father. Their presence and the emotions which accompany them, burn the father as if they are acid. He hates that his child is crying and wants to pick him up. He refrains from doing so, as well as from any other attempts that might “curb [his] sadness.” This is all in an effort to keep from “ruin[ing] the lessons” the father believes the child “should learn.”
You must not make a plaything of the rain.
The final line of the poem which makes up its own short stanza gives the speaker a glimpse into what it was that angered the father. This simple statement, “You must not make a plaything of the rain,” lets the reader know that the child was probably playing around outside and lost control. Perhaps he was splashing in puddles or running from his father.