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“The Toys” is a poem written by Coventry Patmore in the 19th century. The poem is based on a real-life incident with his son. After the death of his wife, Emily Augusta Patmore, he got into depression. This poem describes his love for his son. On the other hand, the poet also writes about how God is treating us.
About the poet:
Coventry Patmore is an English poet and literary critic. He is one of the least known poets of the Victorian era. His religious beliefs shifted from one time to another in his lifetime. His famous works include “The Angel in the House”, a book of poetry. It is a narrative poem about the ideal of a happy marriage in the Victorian era.
The poem “The Toys” is written in a single stanza. It has 33 lines in total. But the poet Patmore has used a full stop at the end of some lines to shift from one picture to another. The first begins with an argument between father and son; the second takes place in the kid’s bedroom; the third stanza is about the box in the bedroom; and the last is the poet’s realisation.
Similar to the rhyme scheme, the poet hasn’t followed a single-metre form throughout the poem. At certain lines, the poet has used iambic pentameter; at a few places, he has also used iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter.
One day, the poet Patmore scolded his son for disobeying him for the seventh time. He was angry and even refused to kiss his son. Then the mood shifts when the poet introduces his wife, who is dead now. Now, the poet regrets his mistake and runs towards his son’s bedroom, where he finds him with teary eyes. Now, with guilt, he couldn’t control his emotion and kissed his son. There he finds a box of different counters that contains different things the son collected. The poet says that the box is a companion for his sad heart. That night, he started praying to God. The poet realises that, similar to the toys collected by his son, all of humankind gets happiness from fame, wealth, and success. But unlike the poet, God never punishes them. Instead, God loves them more. The poet declares in this way that God has been a better father than him. The poem ends with an apology from the poet for the childlike behaviour of humankind.
Lines 1 – 6:
"My little Son, who look'd from thoughtful eyes And moved and spoke in quiet grown-up wise, Having my law the seventh time disobey'd, I struck him, and dismiss'd With hard words and unkiss'd, His Mother, who was patient, being dead."
The poet says that one day his little son, like a grown man, disobeyed him for the seventh time. This made the poet angry. So he scolded the son with harsh words and dismissed him out of the room. He even refused to give him the usual kiss. The poet also mentions that, by this time, his wife, who had an illness, had passed away. Here he mentions his first wife, Emily Augustas Patmore.
"Then, fearing lest his grief should hinder sleep, I visited his bed, But found him slumbering deep, With darken'd eyelids, and their lashes yet From his late sobbing wet."
After this action, he feared that he had broken his son’s heart. So he visited his bedroom and found him sleeping with tears in his eyes.
"And I, with moan, Kissing away his tears, left others of my own; For, on a table drawn beside his head, He had put, within his reach, A box of counters and a red-vein'd stone, A piece of glass abraded by the beach And six or seven shells, A bottle with bluebells And two French copper coins, ranged there with careful art, To comfort his sad heart."
Now the poet couldn’t control his cry. He kissed the son, inattentive to his tears. The poet found a table behind it and a box with counters. The box contained a red stone, a piece of destroyed glass, a few shells, a bottle with bluebells, and two French copper coins with art. This box is the only thing that comforts the little boy’s sad heart.
"So when that night I pray'd To God, I wept, and said: Ah, when at last we lie with tranced breath, Not vexing Thee in death, And Thou rememberest of what toys We made our joys, How weakly understood Thy great commanded good, Then, fatherly not less Than I whom Thou hast moulded from the clay, Thou'lt leave Thy wrath, and say, "I will be sorry for their childishness."
The poet, after noticing the condition of his son, started praying to God. He was so emotional. He realizes that all of us are made by God from clay. God has given his breath to the birth of humankind. The poet says, like his son, even we have some toys in life like pride, wealth, and fame, which make humankind happy. The poet declares God to be a better father than him. Because he understands the childishness of humankind rather than punishing them.
Thus, “The Toys” is a poem about father and son relationship.