Stephen Spender

My Parents by Stephen Spender

‘My Parents’ by Stephen Spender is a poem based on bullying and the desire to make friends.

‘My Parents’ by Stephen Spender is a poem based on bullying and the desire to make friends. Spender describes bullies and the feeling of being bullied throughout the poem. He elaborates on his feelings using the poetic devices of Enjambment, Imagery, and Similes‘My Parents’ is in the first person and in an ambiguous point of view. However, we can assume that Spender was mentioning his own direct feeling’s in this poem, so it was in his own point of view. Interestingly enough, Spender has entitled his poem ‘My Parents’ despite the fact that the entire poem centers around bullying. The only thing Spender mentions about his parents is that they kept him away from these sinister boys who used to tease him. The fact that Spender named the poem ‘My Parents’ shows that he has a great appreciation for how they protected him, or perhaps it shows that he blames his parents for being the children’s target, for they did not allow him to befriend them. You can find the poem here.

My Parents by Stephen Spender


My Parents Analysis

The first line out of the 12 lines of the poem explains that Spender was kept away from children who were considered rough by none other than his parents. The fact that Spender states that his parents ‘kept’ him from the other boys shows us that he felt like he was being forced to stay away from him. The word ‘kept’ also shows his weakness, that he was unable to protest against his parent’s will. This line carries an air of negativity, showing us that Spender most likely entitled his poem ‘My Parents’ as a way of blaming them for his years of being bullied. There is no further elaboration of this and Spender quickly jumps to describing the rough boys who his parents kept him away from. Spender uses imagery to describe these boys as ragged in appearance, with torn clothes and their skin being exposed through rags. This pathetic appearance could be Spender’s way of describing poverty. The boys whom his parents wished him to stay away from where those that were of a much lower class than himself. Spender uses a simile to relate their words to stones. The boys would throw words like stones means that they were not careful of their language, and when they spoke, their words were harsh enough to hurt. Once again, a lack of etiquette in speaking is a defining characteristic of the lower class so it becomes obvious that the boys whom Spender was told to stay away from, were those of a lower class.

Spender goes on to describe the boys in an almost exaggerated fashion. He stresses how they were constantly outside doing things he was never allowed to do, such as climbing cliffs and bathing in the streams. It appears that he was even envious of their style of living. Spender uses continuous Enjambment to allow his thoughts to flow together and create unity between the sentences. Naturally, being of a lower class meant the boys had to do more labor, therefore, they had muscles which he could not even dream of having. Spender states that he feared their knees on his arms which shows that perhaps he had fallen into a scrap with them before, or he had seen them fighting in such a manner with each other. Not only did Spender fear their physical strength, but he also feared their words, mocking him and pointing at him. The fact that Spender states he feared their pointing shows his insecurity of being left out. Spender has so much fear of the boys because he had such a different lifestyle compared to them and though he was of a higher socioeconomic status he somewhat desired this lifestyle and that is what made him feel bad about not fitting in with them. He describes them as fit and springing up from behind bushes. This shows us that Spender found their behavior surprising and shocking once again because he lived such a different lifestyle than they did. Spender uses Imagery to show the boys were like some form of predator. Springing from behind hedges to harass him for being different than they were. Throughout the poem, Spender is describing the boys as ‘they’ and ‘their’ showing that he truly sees them as far and distant beings who he never can truly befriend.

Spender uses a Simile again to compare the boys to dogs, barking at his world and throwing mud. It is interesting that he compared the boys to dogs, for dogs can both be an enemy or close friend. Throwing mud could symbolize that the boy’s words had no real meaning to them but they were simply echoes of their envy towards him. Spender makes the socioeconomic class distinction more apparent by stating that he had a different world than what they had. The boys were not hating on Spender himself, but rather, they were hating the class distinctions and were more than likely envious of Spender’s privileged life. Spender concludes by stating that he would have loved to befriend the boys had they even shown the slightest bit of interest. Towards the end of the poem, it becomes clear that Spender entitled the poem ‘My Parents’ because it is due to being their child that he was given a more privileged life than these boys. He was following the orders of his parents and at the same time fulfilling the social requirement enforced on him due to his lineage by staying away from and even fearing the impoverished boys. Some irony can also be seen in the poem as Spender should be happy that he is so much more privileged than them, but instead of enjoying his lifestyle he fees envious and seems to wish that he could enjoy their strength and freedom. There even seems to be a hint of awe in the description that Spender gives of the boys, lithe like predators, string and capable.

‘My Parents’ by Stephen Spender is a brief poem discussing how the presence of varying socioeconomic classes in society creates strong societal barriers. Spender discusses how bullying occurs out of envy of one another and may not just be one-sided in which the poor envy the rich. but the rich can envy the poor as well that being born into a particular family meant that you could only before certain groups of people. Spender uses enjambment, imagery, and similes to describe the feelings experienced when an interaction occurs between people from different socioeconomic groups.


About Stephen Spender

Stephen Spender was a renowned poet and writer whose works emphasize the harsh distinction between different classes in society. Most of his works focus on questioning and revealing the truth behind the social disparity, such as ‘My Parents. He has authored multiple novels, his last novel was entitled ‘The Temple.’ he has also authored a large number of poetry collections and essays, with his most recent collection entitled Dolphins and The Generous Days. The interesting thing about Spender was that he said himself that he had never even once passed an exam paper, he left his studies but was inspired to write by the famous poet and his close friend W.H.Auden.

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Maha Rehman Poetry Expert
Maha has a BSc Honors from the University of Toronto and is an Author and Writer by profession. She loves writing and genuinely idealizes the idea of science and literary art combining together into a liberating force of intellectual enlightenment. You can check out her YA novel 'Sole Silence'.
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