My Parents Poem Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


Stephen Spender’s poem, “My Parents” brings forth a different and essential perspective. The poem is from the perspective of a child who is bullied and follows how he deals with the situation.

About the Poet

Born on 28 February 1909, Sir Stephen Harold Spender was an English poet, novelist and renowned essayist. His works more often than not revolved around themes of social justice and class struggle. Sir Spender was appointed as the U.S  Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1965. “Poems” by him published in 1933 were inspired by themes of social protest. Some notable works by him include ‘The Express’, ‘The Generous Days’ and ‘Dolphins’. 


The poem is divided into three short stanzas that comprise easy to understand sentences. Each stanza is a quatrain . A quatrain is a stanza of four lines. 


Stanza 1

My parents kept me from children who were rough
Who threw words like stones and wore torn clothes
Their thighs showed through rags they ran in the street
And climbed cliffs and stripped by the country streams.

The poem begins with the speaker recalling a grim part of their childhood. The speaker’s parents kept them away from the rough children, in essence, the bullies. These children lacked manners and etiquettes. Their words were like stones, meaning hurtful and perhaps due to their rough play their clothes were often torn. The children were bold, “Their thighs showed through rags they ran in the street, And climbed cliffs and stripped by the country streams”. The phrase presents adequate imagery to illustrate just the type of experiences these children were making in their childhood. The speaker however, was protected and isolated from these children and thus missed making such memories. 

Stanza 2

I feared more than tigers their muscles like iron
Their jerking hands and their knees tight on my arms
I feared the salt coarse pointing of those boys
Who copied my lisp behind me on the road.

The speaker goes on to elaborate the extent of the fear they felt towards the bullies. The children were clearly strong built and when they held the speaker in a firm grip, the little child would get scared. The stanza explains that the children bullied the speaker because of their lisp and would mimic the speaker. The stanza substantially illustrates the negative impact and fear that bullying causes.

Stanza 3

They were lithe they sprang out behind hedges
Like dogs to bark at my world. They threw mud
While I looked the other way, pretending to smile.
I longed to forgive them but they never smiled.

The speaker elaborates that these children were nimble and they jump from behind hedges and catch the speaker by surprise. The extent of the bullying is presented using simile and imagery in the phrase,”Like dogs to bark at my world. They threw mud”. The bullying did not constrict to negative verbal speech  but also physical aggression. The speaker who was alone, was unable to defend themself and would only look the other way and smile. That smile would hide the pain of a little child who yearned to forgive the bullies and make friends. Despite the speaker’s willingness to forgive them, the children never smiled or made an effort to apologise and amend ways.