The poet looks at the grim conditions prevailing at a primary school in a British slum. He calls on the
authorities to do something to lift these children from their situation of educational squalor to a world of
real literacy and learning.
ABOUT THE POET
Spender was born in London in 1909. His parents were both literary people, his father being a journalist
while his mother was a painter and a poet.
Theirs was middle class society and, typically for those days, they tended to despise the ways of the
working class. His parents' attitude would naturally influence the poet as a young boy -- hence the theme
of his poem "My parents kept me from children who were rough".
The poet initially attended Oxford University but did not finish his degree. Indeed, he later boasted about
the fact that he had never ever passed an exam in his whole life.
While he was at Oxford, however, he fell under the influence of the poet W.H. Auden with whom he did
some major collaboration. Later he would also pal up with both Louis MacNeice and Cecil Day-Lewis,
as well has many other rising English poets.
Instead of finishing his degree, Spender spent time in Germany where he studied some of the German
Germany during the 1920s was a hotbed of socialism and Spender became caught up in this political
movement -- becoming for a time an ardent admirer of communism itself.
The world in which he lived, however, quickly came to be dominated by a struggle between fascism and
communism, and Spender became involved in this clash of ideals. Indeed, he even launched himself into
the Spanish Civil War where he sided with the socialist forces opposed the fascist dictator, General
Despite his lack of a degree, Spender's proven poetic track record allowed him to teach at various
American universities. In 1965 he was appointed "Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry" to the
United States Library of Congress.
He would eventually return to England, however, where he took up a post as Professor of Rhetoric at
Gresham College and, later, Professor of English at the University College in London.
As early as 1962, Spender was awarded a C.B.E. and in 1983 he was honoured with a knighthood for his
poetry. He died in 1995 at the age of 86.
Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:
"Far far from gusty waves these children's faces.
Like rootless weeds, the hair torn around their pallor."
The poet begins with two non-sentences, each of which is missing a verb. He also uses inverse word
- Rewrite each sentence, using standard word-ordering and adding the verbs -- ensuring, of course,
that your sentences make clear the poet's meaning. (4)
- Explain the link between the "children's faces" and the "gusty waves". (4)
- Why would the "torn hair" be compared to "rootless weeds"? (4)
- Why does the poet use the word "pallor" instead of "faces" in "the hair torn around
their pallor"? (4)
"The tall girl with her weighed-down head. The paper-
seeming boy, with rat's eyes. The stunted, unlucky heir
Of twisted bones, reciting a father's gnarled disease,
His lesson from his desk."
- Why would the tall girl have a "weighed-down head"? (4)
- Why is the boy "paper-seeming", and why does he have "rat's eyes"? (4)
- Comment on the bitter irony of the boy "reciting a father's gnarled disease". (4)
"At back of the dim class
One unnoted, sweet and young. His eyes live in a dream,
Of squirrel's game, in the tree room, other than this."
- What is the difference between this boy and the children in his class? (4)