‘A Child’s Garden’ is a six stanza poem, each stanza of which contains four lines, written by the Nobel Prize winning poet, Rudyard Kipling. Kipling chose to employ a ABAB rhyme scheme for ‘A Child’s Garden’. The sing song-y nature of this type of rhyming enhances the childish voice of the speaker, making each line more believable.
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Summary of A Child’s Garden
‘A Child’s Garden’ by Rudyard Kipling is an optimistically toned poem, written from the perspective of a young boy, who is dreaming of escaping his life. The poem begins by informing the reader that the boy has been diagnosed with tuberculosis but has great dreams for his life. The boy speaks on his dislike of the garden in which he forced to “lay / Out in” all day and the noisy cars that drive by on either side. Even worse than hearing the cars is having to ride in them. The boy hates the confining space of his car and it’s closeness on the streets to buses.
‘A Child’s Garden’ concludes with the boy’s fervent hopes for the future in which he is able to get an airplane and rise above his garden prison. He will see the “angel-side” of clouds and “spit” on all those below riding in cars.
Analysis of A Child’s Garden
Now there is nothing wrong with me
Except — I think it’s called T.B.
And that is why I have to lay
Out in the garden all the day.
Written from the perspective of a young boy, a child’s garden begins with the very confident assertion that “there is nothing wrong with me.” This speaker, though he is young, already understands that though he may be physically ill (as will become clear in the next line), there is nothing fundamentally wrong with him as a person. As the poem continues this feeling he has about himself will be elucidated and further emphasized. It’s important to him as an individual cannot be understated when attempting to understand what this narrator is feeling.
The second line of the poem provides the reader with one piece of information that might serve to disrupt the plans that the narrator will lay out.
Except— I think it’s called T.B.
The speaker in this piece has been diagnosed with T.B, or tuberculosis, a serious infectious disease that was one of the leading causes of death in the 1800s and 1900s when this poem was written. Additionally, those that contracted it had an extremely high mortality rate.
He continues on to explain that this diagnosis is why he has to “lay / Out in the garden all the day.” It was often believed that clear, clean air, such as that in a garden, was beneficial to those that had the disease.
The speaker of this piece was more than likely forced, by his parents or doctors, to spend as much time outside as possible in the hope that he it would cure him, or at least improve his symptoms.
Even from just the two ending lines of this stanza, it is easy to discern that this is not how this young boy would like to be spending his time. The rest of the poem will expand on this and what he would rather be doing.
Our garden is not very wide
And cars go by on either side,
And make an angry-hooty noise
That rather startles little boys.
Throughout the second stanza Kipling’s speaker describes the garden, and his dislike of his circumstances. The garden is said to be “not very wide,” and so small that “cars go by on either side.” This noisy, industrial intrusion ruins the small amount of the peace that the boy might have been able to experience there. Additionally, the garden is confining rather than freeing. This young boy is forced to spend his time somewhere that he perceives as scary and claustrophobic.
The last line of this stanza describes the cars as startling “little boys.” He does not make a distinction between himself and others, just as a young child might do, he does not wish to admit to his own fear, but generalize it to say that anyone like him might feel fear over these noises.
But worst of all is when they take
Me out in cars that growl and shake,
With charabancs so dreadful-near
I have to shut my eyes for fear.
This fear he experiences is expanded on in the third stanza. The “worst” part of the cars is that sometimes he is taken out in them. He has a strong dislike for the way in which they “growl and shake.” The speaker has a number of fears that are becoming more defined. The first of which is being contained, he dislikes the walled in garden, being inside of the cars, and it’s even worse when the cars are so “dreadful-near” the “charabancs, “ an early kind of open top bus.
The fear is so intense when he is taken out in a car that he has to “shut [his] eyes for fear.” He cannot stand to face the situation. While it is not defined within the poem, it is easy to assume that the only place the speaker might be taken is to the doctor, another part of life that many little boys may fear.
But when I’m on my back again,
I watch the Croydon aeroplane
That flies across to France, and sings
Like hitting thick piano-strings.
The fourth stanza takes the reader back to the garden after the boy has returned from his trip in the noisy car. When he is “on [his] back again,” he watches the airplanes fly overhead. He specifies that he sees the “Croydon aeroplane.” Croydon, England was home to the world’s first air traffic control tower and was once Britain’s main international gateway airport. At the time in which this poem was written it would have still been a novel experience to see an airplane and this boy is in the ideal place to do so.
The plane is flying “across to France,” making noises like the sound of “hitting thick piano-strings.”
When I am strong enough to do
The things I’m truly wishful to,
I’ll never use a car or train
But always have an aeroplane;
The speaker spends the next two stanzas explaining what he is going to do when he grows up and gets out of the garden. When he is “strong enough to do / The things [he’s] truly wishful to,” he will never travel in a car or train again but spend all his time in the air.
From what the reader has learned about the speaker, and what he fears, so far, it is easy to understand why he would find flying so appealing. Piloting an airplane would take him off of the ground, away from the noises he is scared of, and into the open air where there are no confining walls.
And just go zooming round and round,
And frighten Nursey with the sound,
And see the angel-side of clouds,
And spit on all those motor-crowds!
The last stanza concludes the speaker’s thoughts and clears up all the reasons he would so strongly desire a place in the air.
He would be able to “go zooming round and round” without anyone to stop him. His movement is most definitely strictly restricted in his current life. In the air, there would be no one to tell him to slow down, stop, or be careful.
Additionally, the speaker adds that he would be able to “frighten Nursey with the sound.” It is not certain who “Nursey” is but it is reasonable to assume that this is the name he refers to his nurse by; the nurse’s job title has taken on the function of a name for the boy.
Lastly, the speaker would be able to see the “angel-side of clouds.” As he is gazing up to the sky, he has imagined what the other side of the clouds look like, those which are closer to heaven and might hold angels. The plane would allow him to see for himself what is up there. He would also be able to “spit” on all of the hated cars, buses, and people riding in cars down below.
This young speaker desires nothing more than the ability to escape the life that he is currently living. He wants to get above the garden, away from his fears, and gain the freedom that all young people desire.
While this has a very hopeful tone, it is written from the perspective of a young child who does not fully appreciate the tenuous state of his health. The odds are not in his favor that he will make it out of childhood.
About Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, India in 1865 to parents that were connected to the arts community. The first years of Kipling’s life were spent in India, years that Kipling would describe as “paradise.” In 1878 Kipling began his schooling at the United Services College in Devon, England. Kipling would leave his school in 1882 to join his father in India and begin his journalism career. As well as spending the next five years as the assistant editor for the Civil and Military Gazette, he would publish his first collection of poetry, Departmental Ditties.
He would finish a number of other collections before returning to England in 1889 to further pursue his writing career. He found great success there and would spend the last years of his life in Burwash, Sussex.
In 1907 Kipling won the Nobel Prize for Literature and he is best known for his work concerning British imperialism.