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Compare the three poems in Section I, Childhood, and explain how clearly you think they illustrate some of the problems of being a child. The poems ‘Half-past two’, ‘Piano’ and ‘My parents kept me away from Children who were Rough’ are all about the theme childhood. Of the three, ‘My parents kept me away from Children who were Rough’ explored the problems of being a child very thoroughly, while the other two either left childhood problems unexplored, or conveyed it subtly.
The poem ‘My parents kept me away from Children who were Rough’ illustrates various problems of being a child, that is first evident in the title. The words ‘My parents’ in the title reveals the subtle laying of blame on the narrator’s parents, as they physically shielded the narrator from other boys. The phrase ‘kept me’ suggests a physical barrier between the narrator and the children, which they have sensed and later exploited. All the childhood problems conveyed by Stephen Spender in the poem stem from the over-protectiveness of the narrator’s parents.
By declaring the vulgarity and distaste of the children, who ‘worn torn clothes’ with ‘their thighs showed through rags’, the narrator’s parents had successfully raised their child to a differentiated social class, which is essentially the reason why he is physically and mentally bullied. The conscious minds of the narrator’s parents had also forbidden him to approach the other children, and his wish to do so could be seen from the phrase ‘I longed to forgive them’.
Nonetheless, under the shadow of his parent’s influence, the narrator, as a first person, had come to realise the difference in social standing between him and other children, as illustrated in the phrase ‘Like dogs to bark at our world’. On the other hand, the over-protectiveness of the narrator’s parents could be justified, especially then their child was bullied by other children in the neighbourhood. The cruel treatment towards the narrator by other children was another main problem conveyed in the poem. The structure of the poem, as a free verse, is reflective of the lack of restraints in the way the children acted.
The narrator frequently associated the wildness of nature with the behaviour of the children, which is conveyed using the words ‘stone’, ‘cliffs’, ‘salt’ and ‘mud’. Twice the children were related to animals, with emphasises on their wild and uncivilised deeds. In the line ‘I fear more than tigers their muscles like iron’ the physical strength of the children is conveyed in a subtle way through the simile ‘ muscles like iron’, and that the narrator ‘feared (the children) more than tigers’, which implies the damage done to the narrator by the children could be more severe than a tiger’s attack.
The physical and verbal contacts between the children and the narrator were often portrayed as rough and impolite, as informed in the phrase ‘their jerking hands and their knees tight on my arms’. The physical violence towards the narrator was fully explained in the children’s conduct: Their hands and knees pinching ‘tight’ against the narrator’s arms, which jerked as they squeezed the narrator’s arms with all their might.
The line ‘I feared the salt coarse pointing of those boys’ also signifies that the words thrown by the children to the narrator was harsh, unforgiving and sharp, in a ‘salt coarse, pointy’ way. Repetitions were frequently used in the second verse of the poem, for instance the words ‘And’ as well as ‘feared’. The word ‘And’ intensifies the sequence of bullying by the children towards the narrator and serves to communicate the endless brutal deeds of the children. The repetition of the word ‘feared’ reinforced the strong emotion of the narrator, further conveying his level of fear.