My Parents by Stephen Spender

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 tripped by country streams.

The first words, 'My parents', are the only mention of Spender's parents. Although this is the poem's title, they are never directly mentioned again, though Spender's words often reflect things that his parents have clearly told him to think or say. He says the children were 'rough' and wore 'torn clothes', which suggests they were of a lower social class than he. This is probably why his parents told him to stay away from them. He has adopted parental judgement of the children and seems to disapprove of the way they 'ran in the street' and 'climbed cliffs'. The idea that they 'threw words like stones' is reminiscient of the old punishment of stoning a criminal to death. It is a physical way of describing the effect of their harsh words.

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.

He uses the simile 'I feared more than tigers' to describe his fear of the boys. Tigers have connotations of being savage, wild and exotic, which is how he views them. They are savage and wild to him because of their rough mannerisms and activities, but also exotic because he does not understand them. He views them as being a different species entirely from him. Their muscles are described as 'iron', probably because they have to do more manual labour than Spender did so they are stronger. He phrase 'salt coarse pointing' could be a reference to the phrase 'to rub salt on a wound'; it is not enough for them to physically hurt him ('knees tight on my arms'), they must also point and laugh at him.

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