An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum

                                   Stephen Spender

                                                                                                              

Stanza wise Analysis

The poet deals with the themes of social injustice and class inequalities in this unique poem. The poem is written in free verse and paints a bleak picture of a school in a slum.

Stanza -1

Far far from gusty waves these children’s faces.

Like rootless weeds, the hair torn round their pallor:

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. At back of the dim class

One unnoted, sweet and young. His eyes live in a dream

Of squirrel’s game, in tree room, other than this.

In the first stanza, he paints a grim picture of the miserable condition of the children in the slum. There is no energy or vigor on the faces of these children. With their pale faces and unkempt hair, they look like uprooted weeds. Their lifeless faces show that they are uncared for. The poet goes on to describe a few children individually to show how miserable their condition is. Each child seems to be weak, hungry and malnourished. There is a tall girl in the class who sits with her head low because she is mentally and physically exhausted carrying the burden of poverty. The poet mentions ‘the paper seeming’ boy who is extremely thin with hungry eyes like a rat. There is another boy awho suffers from bone deformities, a disease that he inherited from his father. When he stands to recite his lesson he presents his father’s disease of twisted bones. There is one sweet boy sitting at the back of the class who is distracted from his lessons and dreams of squirrel’s games in a tree room outside the class. Though he is physically present he is mentally absent from the room. Thus in the first stanza, the poet paints a sad picture of poverty, starvation, and deprivation in the life of the people living in the slums.

Stanza -2

On sour cream walls, donations. Shakespeare’s head,

Cloudless at dawn, civilized dome riding all cities.

Belled, flowery, Tyrolese valley. Open-handed map

Awarding the world its world. And yet, for these

Children, these windows, not this map, their world,

Where all their future’s painted with a fog,

A narrow street sealed in with a lead sky

Far far from rivers, capes, and stars of words.

In the next stanza, the poet shifts his attention from the children to the condition of the classroom. On the walls of the classroom, a number of donated pictures are seen to be hanging. These have been donated by rich and well-off people. Among these pictures are Shakespeare’s portrait, pictures of famous monuments, beautiful valleys of Tyrol in Austria. There is also a map of the world which is made and reshaped by people. This map tells the children that it is their world. The map stands for progress and prosperity; it is the world of the rich. But, for these children, this map is not their world. Their world is the world that is visible through the classroom window. What they witness outside these windows is the only world that they have ever seen. Here, they see a future that is ‘painted with a fog,’ which symbolizes uncertainty. All they see outside is a filthy street, covered with a sky full of smoke,  which seems heavy like lead sealing their future and hurling them into darkness. This place is far from anything beautiful like rivers, capes and good books.

Stanza-3

Surely, Shakespeare is wicked, the map a bad example.

With ships and sun and love tempting them to steal —

For lives that slyly turn in their cramped holes

From fog to endless night? On their slag heap, these children

Wear skins peeped through by bones and spectacles of steel

With mended glass, like bottle bits on stones.

All of their time and space are foggy slums.

So blot their maps with slums as big as doom.

All the hangings on the walls are mere temptations for these children, well beyond their reach. These pictures tempt them to make an escape from their miserable life into the beautiful life represented through the pictures. It tempts them to steal in order to escape from the grey world of the slums. There Shakespeare is said to be wicked and the map a bad example. Life in their cramped houses gradually changes from being uncertain to complete hopelessness. These children living amidst heaps of garbage have bodies with bones peeping through layers of skin. This suggests that even their basic needs like food are not met. Amenities provided to them like their spectacles are heavy and of cheap quality which adds to their woe. They spend their entire life(time) in the foggy slum (space) which is the only world they know. These slums are nothing less than a living hell and hence a blot in the world of the rich. It implies that our so-called civilized world that the map represents is far from perfect.

Stanza- 4

Unless, governor, inspector, visitor,

This map becomes their window and these windows

That shut upon their lives like catacombs,

Break O break open till they break the town

And show the children to green fields, and make their world

Run azure on gold sands, and let their tongues

Run naked into books the white and green leaves open

History theirs whose language is the sun.

Spender brings the poem to an end on a positive note. He shows a ray of hope for improving the condition of these slum children and also shows the way for it. According to him, the people in power (like Governor, inspector, and influential visitors) should take initiative to bring about the required changes. The progressive world should become the world of the slum children as well. And their windows which act as a barrier between them and development should be broken. The slum life should be eradicated and the slum children should be brought out of their narrow lanes into the green fields and golden sands; because surroundings play an important role in shaping one’s personality. They should be given the freedom to acquire knowledge so that they are able to read freely and express themselves freely. The language of the well-read and the well-educated gains the strength of the sun and they gain the power to create history.

Figures of speech in the poem

Figure of speechExample
Simile     Like rootless weeds
Metaphor  The paper-seeming boy
Metaphor  civilized dome riding all cities
transferred epithet             Civilized dome
Metaphortheir future’s painted with a fog 
Metaphor   A narrow street sealed in with a lead sky
 Metaphor               On their slag heap
Metaphor                    lives that slyly turn in their cramped holes
Simile  like bottle bits on stones
Simile                        these windows that shut upon their lives like catacombs
Metaphor                History is theirs whose language is the sun
zeugma                         the verb “reciting” in this line applies to the “gnarled disease” and “his lesson”.
synecdoche                    “His eyes live in a dream” in which the poet refers to the eyes of the boy in place of the boy.
personification                Civilized dome riding all cities      
Metonymy                     awarding the world its world  
Alliteration                   street sealed, far far from  
Polysyndeton / climax    ships and sun and love  
Rhetorical question         from fog to endless night?  
Irony                               the donations hung in the sour walls do not match the actual surroundings  
Symbol                                 Sun is the symbol of power

Silent God

Photo by Ben Mack

You don’t need speakers…
To show your love for God,
For God is silence, silence God.
You can connect with the Almighty,
Through your thoughts,
Simply proffering your love to God,
Is more than enough.
You can do it inside your mind,
Offering your unconditional love,
Day in day out;
Like the one you have,
For your parents or your child.
You don’t need mikes…
To show your devotion.
For it portrays your devoutness
To your equals, and not the Lord.
For God is silent, our silent God.

Lost and Found

I looked everywhere
For the time that I lost.
And even thought of registering,
A report in lost and found.
There I found
Innumerable people; who lost theirs.
Those priceless hours,
In mourning for the time
Which like departed souls
Shall never return.
Enlightened…
I smiled at the present moment,
and greeted it like a new born
Cherishing  it, before it perished
Like those listless moments I lost before.

Solomon’s Ring

Photo by TranStudios Photography

_

Hurrah! said the little girl.
‘Look what I have found,
Its the ring of Solomon,
I’ll keep it safe and sound.’

Her friends gathered around her,
Curious to the core;
The see the ring of Solomon,
From the days of yore.

It was but a thin ring,
A mere plate of gold.
The ones that at jewellers,
Everyday was sold.
 
‘How do you know, Polly;
That the ring belongs to him?’
‘Ah!’She answered with a smile
‘It’s written on the rim.’

Sure enough in calligraphy,
Etched inside the ring;
Solomon‘ could be clearly read;
Though the band was thin.

‘I found it in the woods,
Behind the school in which we go’
Beside the rundown cottage
That is used no more.’

‘It was stuck between two stones,
It was stuck nice and hard;
It took me two hours to get it,
Now my hands hurt really bad.’

She passed the ring around,
For all her friends to see;
Each wanted to try the ring,
Each said,’ Give it to me.’

Bashful Ben came forward,
And had a look at the jewel,
He wondered whether the truth;
For the kids, would be cruel.

‘Solomon’s ring was a seal,’he said
‘Made of brass and  iron,
It had the power to summon;
The geine and the demon.’

‘It gave the power to its owner,
To talk to animal and bird;
Two entwined triangles it had,
In a circle with a dot.

It was the seal of the royals,
For stamping order and deals.
It had the power to save a life;
Or to have a person killed.

Poor Polly was so dismayed,
To hear that the ring wasn’t his;
If it were really Solomon’s ring,
She would’ve been mighty pleased.

So, they took it to the police,
Who checked the lost and found;
Yes, Solomon the mason working there,
Had lost his on that ground.

Review: Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley

A Sky of Books and Movies

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, is the full title.

So much has been written about this novel over the years; so much has been analysed about Mary Shelley’s personal life and social circle she moved in and the psychological undercurrents of the novel, and its place in literary history and how it might be the first real science fiction novel and its engagement with both the romantic, gothic style and with ideas of the Enlightenment and scientific progress… that it is all a bit overwhelming. I will not try to be a perfect spokesperson for this novel and not present some academic synthesis of all this information. I have a life! I’ll just note some things that stood out to me.

The story of Frankenstein is all about knowledge and wisdom. What are these things, and are they safe pursuits? The story of the “monster” is set within the framework…

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Lighting Lamps of Love

Darkness is absence of light
Ignorance is absence of knowledge
Evil is absence of goodness
Despondence is absence of joy

Let this Diwali remove the darkness
Of our minds and hearts
And help us fill the Earth
With peace, prosperity and pure joy
For humans and contemporary beings
From microbes to majestic elephants.

May million lamps of truth and trust
Flood dear world with flawless felicity.

Useful Tips for Self-Editing a Manuscript — A Writer’s Path

Whilst there is no substitute for hiring a professional editor, self-editing is an important skill for any writer to hone. For one thing, the more passes a manuscript gets, the fewer errors will remain in the final product. If you are using an editor, be sure to self-edit thoroughly first so they can focus on […]

Useful Tips for Self-Editing a Manuscript — A Writer’s Path

REPORTED SPEECH

English Literature and Grammar

DIRECT AND INDIRECT SPEECH

Photo by Jopwell on Pexels.com

There are two ways of reporting the words spoken by an individual:

Directly – Ron said, “I will win the match.”

Indirectly– Ron said that he would win the match.

Direct speech – The actual words of the speaker is used within double inverted commas. (“ “)

Indirect Speech – When the words of a speaker are reported in our own words.

Reporting verb – In the direct speech, those words which appear outside the double inverted commas are called reporting verb. The reporting verb introduces the words of the speaker. This verb indicates who speaks to whom, how and when.

Reported speech : Those words which are used within inverted commas in the direct speech is called reported speech.

Direct speech example:

The teacher said, “The earth revolves around the sun.”

In this sentence…

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