This thoughtful poem describes a speaker’s feelings of loneliness as he longs to see his much-loved daughter. Spender’s speaker suggests that he feels imprisoned by his own solitude in ‘Missing My Daughter,’ so much so that it has prevented his mind from being able to produce writing and has stimulated unusual dreams.
Explore Missing My Daughter
‘Missing My Daughter’ by Stephen Spender conveys a speaker’s loneliness and desire to see his daughter.
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker describes his nearly empty surroundings and how the wallpaper rises in his mind like the bars of a jail cell. These bars prevent him from being able to write, despite the piece of paper in front of him. They come from deep internal loneliness. The speaker dearly misses his daughter, who, the poem suggests, is now too old to spend time around him.
You can read the full poem here.
The main theme of this poem is missing someone you love. The poet’s speaker experiences dreams and perhaps even hallucinations as he suffers through feelings of loneliness. He misses his daughter so much that it’s created an emptiness in his mind that prevents him from writing.
Structure and Form
‘Missing My Daughter’ by Stephen Spender is a four-stanza poem that is divided into sets of six lines, known as sestets. These lines follow an interesting rhyme scheme of ABCBCA. The poem uses simple syntax and easy-to-understand language. This allows readers of all backgrounds to read the speaker’s words and empathize with at least some part of what the speaker is feeling.
Throughout, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines four and five of the second stanza.
- Imagery: the use of particularly effective descriptions that should inspire the reader’s senses. For example, “The round gaze of her childhood was / White as the distance in the glass.”
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “red roses” in stanza one and “petalling” and “pen” in stanza two.
- Caesura: a pause in the middle of a line of text. For example, “Between bars. Next, through tick and tock.”
This wall-paper has lines that rise
Upright like bars, and overhead,
The ceiling’s patterned with red roses.
On the wall opposite the bed
The staring looking-glass encloses
Six roses in its white of eyes.
In the first stanza of this moving poem, the speaker begins by describing the wallpaper around him rising like bars. This is an example of a simile that helps readers imagine how can find the speaker feels in his surroundings.
Above him, he sees patterns of red roses that strike and contrast with the more severe-feeling bars. There is an example of personification in the last line of the stanza where the speaker describes the “looking-glass” across from the bed staring at him with its eyes. The speaker is trying to work on something, as the second stanza reveals, but his mind is preoccupied.
Here at my desk, with note-book open
Through petalling of my pen.
He’s at his desk with a notebook in front of him, and all he can think about is missing his daughter. The bars he imagined around him appearing out of the wallpaper are the same bars he feels now in his mind. His loneliness is like a cage that he can’t escape from.
The page is blank in front of him, and, connecting this stanza to the previous, he describes it as staring with eyes at him as he tries to write about the roses on the other side of the room. But, his mind is confined by other thoughts.
An hour ago, there came an image
Of deserts. The door, in a green mirage,
The speaker recalls how previously he imagined something very different from the roses. He imagined that there was a beast that came into the room (the confined, empty room in his mind) and pressed its muzzle, “Between bars.”
The second half of the stanza describes another imagined image—the door opening. The fourth stanza reveals that in his mind, his daughter was entering the room as a green mirage.
Opened. In my daughter came.
The roses raced around her name.
In the final stanza, the speaker describes his daughter entering his mind through the imagined door. Her eyes were wide, and he saw in them her childhood. Just as he feels distant from her, she is distant from her youth. The speaker may be suggesting that his daughter growing up is what, in part, has taken her away from him.
Looking down at the page, all that’s there is an unwritten poem and roses drawn around his daughter’s name. He misses her and feels distant from her due to her aging away from him or some other collection of reasons.
The message is that missing someone is like a prison that you can’t escape from. The speaker, commonly interpreted as Stephen Spender himself, describes missing and thinking about his daughter. No matter what he does, he can’t get her out of his mind.
Stephen Spender is known as an English novelist who was born in 1909 in London. He is often read alongside other Oxford poets, like W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice. Much of his verse was concerned with class struggle and social issues.
The purpose is to describe the way that certain feelings, like missing someone you love, can overtake your mind. So much so that it may feel like you’re in a prison of loneliness.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Stephen Spender poems. For example:
- ‘My Parents’ – is a poem based on bullying and the desire to make friends.
- ‘The Truly Great’ – discusses the traits of heroes who have passed away before us.
- ‘Utima Ratio Regum’ – portrays the effect of war on innocent, insignificant lives.