A Sad Child Poem by Margaret Atwood Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


The poem “A Sad Child” is written by Margaret Atwood. The poem talks about the experiences and feelings of a young child. The child is going through depression. The poem explores the inside of a child’s mind when they feel sad. The poet talks about how the child starts to forget all the good times that they had and does not remember the happy memories anymore. The poem is an advice to those young kinds. The poet tells the sad young children to not be afraid of feeling sad, as sadness is a part of life. They must endure it and come out stronger than before.

About the poet

Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa, Canada. She is a Canadian writer, poet, critic and teacher. She is also an inventor. She is also the founder of the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Writer’s Trust of Canada. She has written and pun;joshed numerous books and poetry collections. Some of her writings have also won many awards like the Booker Prize, the Franz Kafka Prize and the National Book Critics award. Some of her most notable works include “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “The Blind Assassin” and “The Testaments”.


The poem is written in free-verse. It consists of 5 stanzas. Each stanza has 5 lines, except for the 3rd stanza which has 10 lines.

Stanza 1

You're sad because you're sad.

It's psychic. It's the age. It's chemical.

Go see a shrink or take a pill,

or hug your sadness like an eyeless doll

you need to sleep.


The poem begins with the speaker talking to an unknown listener. This unknown listener could be anyone. She talks about how she knows that the listener is feeling sad. She attributes it to psychic, age-related, and chemical factors. The mention of “age” can indicate to the listener being young. The speaker suggests the child to see a therapist or take medication. She also tells them to try hugging the sadness like an eyeless doll and just go to sleep.  She suggests sleep as a way to cope or escape from sadness. 


In this stanza the poet acknowledges that feeling sad can be a mix of psychological, age-related, and chemical factors. She suggests the child see a therapist. This suggestion to see a shrink or take a pill reflects the idea of seeking professional help or medication for emotional struggles. The poet uses the metaphor of hugging sadness like an eyeless doll to convey the need for self-comfort. The poet also mentions sleep to suggests a way to cope or find relief from the sadness.

Stanza 2

Well, all children are sad

but some get over it.

Count your blessings. Better than that,

buy a hat. Buy a coat or pet.

Take up dancing to forget.


In these lines the speaker acknowledges that all children experience sadness, but some manage to overcome it. She gives them the advice to count their blessings. She says that there is an even better way to overcome their sadness. She tells them to take a more practical approach and buy things like a hat, coat, or pet. She also tells them to take up dancing to forget their sadness. The suggestion to take up dancing implies using activities as a way to distract or forget about the sadness. 


The poet in these lines reflects on childhood sadness and suggests the children ways to cope. The fact that all children feel sad but some overcome it highlights the transient nature of emotions, especially sadness, in youth. Poet’s advice to count blessings is made to encourage a positive perspective for the children. Her suggestions to buy a hat, coat, or pet highlight how finding comfort in material or companionship can also help the children to overcome sadness. The idea of taking up dancing as a distraction underscores the concepts of using activities to distract yourself and shift focus from sadness. 

Stanza 3

Forget what?

Your sadness, your shadow,

whatever it was that was done to you

the day of the lawn party

when you came inside flushed with the sun,

your mouth sulky with sugar,

in your new dress with the ribbon

and the ice-cream smear,

and said to yourself in the bathroom,

I am not the favorite child.


In these lines, the speaker encourages the children to forget the significant moments of disappointment or hurt. The speaker talks about the memory of hurt. It was the day of celebration, a lawn party. The speaker creates the image of the child who returns from the party with a flushed face and a sulky mouth, wearing a new dress with a ribbon and an ice-cream smear. After the child comes from the party, the speaker describes how in a private moment in the bathroom, the child had felt like they were not the favorite child. This incident is the reason why the child feels sad and depressed.


In these lines, the poet only describes the memory of a moment, possibly from childhood, when the child felt a sense of hurt or disappointment. The poet uses imagery to create the image of the occasion. It is a festive lawn party, and the detailed imagery, flushed face, sulky mouth, new dress with a ribbon, and an ice-cream smear, helps her to paint a vivid picture of the atmosphere. The child runs away from the party and goes into the bathroom. This internal reflection in the bathroom reveals the  realization that the child is not considered as the favorite child. This incident is revealed to be the cause of the child’s sadness and depression.

Stanza 4

My darling, when it comes

right down to it

and the light fails and the fog rolls in

and you're trapped in your overturned body

under a blanket or burning car,


The speaker addresses the child and calls them her darling. She talks about the challenging situation and says that when everything becomes difficult, and darkness falls with the arrival of fog, the child might feel trapped. She uses the imagery of being trapped in an overturned body under a blanket or burning car to highlight the moment of intense struggle or danger. The speaker in these lines is expressing concern and acknowledging the harsh realities that life may present.


The poet uses apostrophe to address the child directly by calling her “My darling”. She reflects on challenging moments in life. The mention of “when the light fails” and “the fog rolls in” paints a picture of difficult and uncertain times. The poet uses vivid imagery of being trapped in an overturned body under a blanket or burning car to suggest a sense of helplessness or danger. The poet expresses a deep concern for the loved one’s well-being in the face of adversity. The use of these powerful images creates an atmosphere which allows the readers to connect emotionally with the theme of navigating through tough situations with someone dear.

Stanza 5

and the red flame is seeping out of you

and igniting the tarmac beside your head

or else the floor, or else the pillow,

none of us is;

or else we all are.


In this stanza, the speaker continues to describe the challenging situations, portraying a vivid image of red flame seeping out and igniting surfaces near the young child’s head, whether it be the tarmac, the floor, or the pillow. The uncertainty and danger in the scene are palpable. Through the concluding lines, the speaker suggests a shared vulnerability—none of them are exempt from such trials. This implies a collective experience where everyone faces difficult moments or potential dangers in life.


In this stanza, the poet vividly describes a dangerous situation where red flames are seeping out, igniting surfaces around a young child’s head—whether it be the tarmac, the floor, or the pillow. The imagery conveys a sense of danger and urgency. The multiple scenarios highlight the unpredictability of difficult circumstances. The lines “none of us is; or else we all are” suggest a shared vulnerability, emphasizing that nobody, including the young child, is exempt from facing challenges. This creates a sense of collective experience, where everyone is susceptible to life’s hardships.