Confessions of Born Spectator Poem Summary & Line by Line Explanation in English


This poem talks about people who feel more comfortable being mere spectators than actually playing sports. The poet talks about various kinds of sports and athletes and says that he greatly admires them. However, he is glad he is not them because it does not suit his nature. The poem has 37 lines divided into 6 stanzas. The rhyme scheme of each stanza except the last is aabbcc. The rhyme scheme of the last stanza is aaabbcc.

Stanza 1-2

One infant grows up and becomes a jockey,
Another plays basketball or hockey,
This one the prize ring hates to enter
That one becomes a tackle or center,
I am just glad as glad can be
That I am not them, that they are not me.
With all my heart I do admire
Athletes who sweat for fun or hire,
Who take the field in gaudy pomp,
And maim each other as they romp,
My limp and bashful spirit feeds
On other people’s heroic deeds.

The poet says that one infant grows up and becomes a jockey or horse rider, while another plays basketball or hockey. One hates to enter the prize ring in which boxing matches are fought, while another takes the position of a tackle or a center. The poet says that he is just as glad as he can be that he is not them, and that they are not him.

He says that with all his heart he does admire athletes who sweat for fun or money, who go to the field in their showy uniforms and injure each other as they play in a rough and noisy way. The poet’s weak and shy spirit feeds on other people’s heroic deeds. So, he derives considerable pleasure from watching athletes play, but he does not wish to take part in their activities himself. He is happy to be a spectator to their heroic deeds.

Stanza 3-4

Now A runs ninety yards to score,
B knocks the champion to the floor,
Cracking vertebrae and spines,
Lashes his steed across the line,
You’d think my ego it would please
To swap positions with one of these.
Well, ego it might be pleased enough,
But zealous athletes play so rough
They do not ever in their dealings
Consider one another’s feelings.
I’m glad that when my struggle begins
‘Twixt prudence and ego, prudence wins.

The poet says that person A runs ninety yards to score, and person B knocks the champion to the floor or defeats him. Cracking vertebrae and spines, or exerting his entire body, another person whips his race horse across the finish line. The poet says that we would think that it would please his ego to swap positions with one of these athletes.

He thinks that although his ego might be pleased enough, he does not want to change positions with them. This is because enthusiastic athletes play so rough that they do not ever consider one another’s feelings in their dealings. They fail to see that their actions might be hurting others in the enthusiasm of the moment.

The poet is glad that when his struggle begins, wisdom wins between ego and wisdom. The struggle he is talking about is the struggle to decide whether he wants to be an athlete or not. He decides that he does not, because his wisdom wins over his ego and shows him that he is better off being a spectator.

Stanza 5-6

When swollen eye meets gnarled fist
When snaps the knee, and cracks the wrist,
When officialdom demands,
Is there a doctor in the stands?
My soul in true thanksgiving speaks
For this modest of physiques.
“Athletes, I’ll drink to you
Or eat with you,
Or anything except compete with you,
Buy tickets worth their radium,
To watch you gambol in the stadium,
And reassure myself anew
That you are not me and I’m not you.

The poet talks about the injuries that athletes might sustain. He wonders if there is a doctor in the stands when someone punches a swollen eye with a rough fist, or when the knee snaps and the wrist cracks. He asks whether the officialdom or organizers have a proper doctor to treat the athletes’ wounds.

The poet’s soul in true thanksgiving speaks for this modest of physiques. He is glad that his modest body is not that of a sportsperson who is constantly injured. He addresses athletes and says that he will drink to them, or wish them luck and success. He will even eat with them, and do anything except compete with them.

The poet will buy tickets worth their radium, or a lot of money, to watch them play in the stadium, and reassure himself once again that they are not him and he is not them. He is happy to stay a spectator.


The poet presents us with a variety of sports and athletes only to confirm his own position as a spectator. He admires athletes but does not want to be them. He is happy to be a spectator since he feels that is what suits him best.