This poem by Stephen Spender is a good one to start the year since it talks about the divide that exists between people, some of it imposed by circumstances, some of it based on class or education. Children quickly learn who is like us and who is different; parents often the educators on the boundaries of their identity. In this poem, we get a sense of the poet through understanding that ‘they’ are everything he is not!
My Parents Kept Me From Children Who Were Rough
My parents kept me from children who were rough
and who threw words like stones and who wore torn clothes.
Their thighs showed through rags. They ran in the street
And climbed cliffs and stripped by the country streams.
I feared more than tigers their muscles like iron
And 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.
They were lithe, they sprang out behind hedges
Like dogs to bark at our world. They threw mud
And I looked another way, pretending to smile,
I longed to forgive them, yet they never smiled.
This poem is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?