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An Elementary School Classroom | Stephen Spender

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

Lesson Architecture

  • Biography

  • Theme

  • Stanza-Wise Explanation

  • NCERT Solution

  • Extra Questions

  • MCQ Worksheet


  • Stephen Spneder- an English poet and essayist.

  • Post World War Europe finds expression in Spender’s verse and prose.

  • Famous books include ‘Poem of Dedication’, The Edge of Being’, ‘The Creative Element’ etc.

  • The poem highlights on themes of social injustice and class inequalities.


  • The poem casts doubt about the purpose of education to the slum children.

  • It contains Spender’s views about slum schools and the purpose behind establishing such schools.

  • The poet thinks that lives of slum children will remain miserable unless they are educated and shifted elsewhere.

  • The poem is a fine combination of hope and despair for the humanity unlike the dark vision of T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’

  • The poem draws out a real picture of slum children in a school after the post-world war period.

Stanza-Wise Explanation


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.


gusty waves: Strong waves. Slum children are away from beautiful sights of nature.

rootless weeds: Unwanted plants. Here useless/untidy hair.

Pallor: Pale face. Hair as if torn apart falls on their pale faces.

weighed-down head: heavy head due to malnutrition.

Paper seeming boy: As thin as a paper.

Rat’s eyes: hollow/protruding eyes of slum children.


The poet here describes the miserable condition of the children sitting in a classroom in a slum school. ‘from gusty waves’means children are away from the beautiful sights of nature, which is indicated by their appearance.

Their hairwhich looksuntidy and fall on their pale face is compared to rootless weeds here. As weeds are unwanted in a garden, similarlythe hair on their head appear to be unproductive as well.

A tall girl in the classroom with her heavy head looks sad. Her ‘heavy head’ representsher abnormal growth due to malnutrition.

One boy sitting in the class is as thin as paper. He has holloweyes like those of a rat. He too is the victim of under-nourishment due to glaring poverty.


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.


ØStunted Unlucky Heir: Under-nourished unlucky successor.

Øtwisted bones: deformed body

Øgnarled disease: physical deformity.

ØTree room: The boy thinks of squirrel’s game into the hollow of a tree rather than this cramped classroom.


  • The poet says that there is a boy who is unlucky as he inherited a disease from his father due to which he has a deformed body.

  • This disabled boy is reciting his lesson from his desk in the classroom. He too is the victim of poor nourishment.

  • On the back of the dark class a bright and young boy was sitting. He is sitting there unnoticed, and dreaming of squirrels playing in a tree He appeared to be very promising.

  • The dull and uninteresting ambiance in the classroom has failed to arrest his attention.


On sour cream walls, donations. Shakespeare’s head, Cloudless at dawn, civilized dome riding all cities. Belled, flowery, Tyrolese valley.


  • Sour Cream Walls: Dirty cream-coloured walls.

  • Shakespeare’s head: donated bust of Williamm Shakespeare.

  • Cloudless at dawn: Clear sky early in the morning.

  • civilized dome: high-rise domes of modern civilization.

  • Tyrolese valley : pertaining to the Tyrol, an Austrian Alpine province


  • The walls of the classroom are pale and dirty.

  • On these walls a host of donated teaching aids have been put up.

  • These objects on the wall represent the world of the rich and prosperous.

  • One of them is the picture of William Shakespeare

  • The other picture shows early morning sky without any tinge of cloud in it.

  • The pictures of high-rise domes of modern civilization represent the quality of life in those cities.

  • There is also a picture of the beautiful Tyrolese valley, a region in the Austrian Alpine province, adorned with flowers.

  • Unfortunately these colourful pictures on the walls have no relevance in the lives of these poor slum children.

  • The world depicted on these walls is not the world of these children.

  • Their world does not contain huge domes or advanced civilization or the scenic beauty as presented in the pictures on the wall of the classroom.


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,


  • Awarding the world its world: the world map depicting beautiful countries of the world.

  • not this map : The world map in the classroom is not the world of slum children, world outside windows is their actual world.

  • painted with a fog : The future of slum children is hazy like fog.


  • The world map hung on the classroom displays the names and locations of various countries of the world.

  • (Awarding the world its world: the world map depicting various countries of the world. )

  • But these countries are outside the reach of the slum children and hence the world map has not importance for the children.

  • The life existing outside the window of the classroom is their actual world, and not this map in the classroom.

  • Unfortunately, their world is painted with fog, the fog of hopelessness and hunger. Their future is grim and uncertain.


A narrow street sealed in with a lead sky

Far far from rivers, capes, and stars of words


  • Lead Sky: Their future is compared to a narrow street having dull sky above.

  • capes : landscapes

  • Stars of Words: The acquisition of radiant light of knowledge is like stars in the sky, which slum children cannot touch.


  • Their future is sealed with a dark and dull sky.

  • The poet again says that their world is far away from the actual world of rivers and capes.

  • stars of words here refers to the acquisition of radiant light of knowledge which is like stars in the sky, impossible for slum children to reach out to.

  • These children are far away from the bright light of knowledge and education.


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?


  • Shakespeare is wicked : picture of Shakespeare is useless as Slum children cannot read his books.

  • the map a bad example : The map is also useless as slum children cannot dream of visiting places given in maps.

  • slyly turn in their cramped holes: Their existence in their conjested houses will bring etrnal fog and miseries in their lives.


  • The poet says that picture of Shakespeare on the classroom wall is irrelevant or meaningless as slum children will have no opportunity to read books of William Shakespeare.

  • Similarly, map is also a bad example as these poor slum children can never visit such places as mentioned in the map of the classroom wall.

  • The beautiful world depicted/presented on the classroom wall like the sun, ships, love and care only tempt them to steal because they cannot have access to these material world.

  • They live in cramped houses and there is no end to their misery. Their continued existence in such cramped place will result in eternal fog and uncertain future in their lives.


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 slum. So blot their maps with slums as big as doom.”


  • Wear skins peeped through by bones : They are very thin and their bones are visible through the thin layer of their skin.

  • With mended glass, like bottle bits on stones: The state of poverty is intensified by the fact that the glasses which these children wear are cracked and look like broken pieces of a bottle on stones.


  • These kids are so thin that one can easily see their bones through the thin layer of skin.

  • The perpetual or eternal state of poverty is highlighted when the poet says that the glasses which these children wear are cracked and look like broken pieces of a bottle on a stone.

  • The future of these slum children is uncertain. Therefore, the map on the classroom actually here represents the pathetic slums for the children as they have no access to the world depicted in the map. Their map is their congested/ cramped and foggy slums only.


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


these windows…….catacombs: Like the cemetery/tombs shut the dead bodies, the presence of slums outside their windows also restrict their movement and holistic growth.

  • The poet means to say that unless government authorities like the governor , and inspector visit the school and provide the infrastructure and educational resources to the slum children, their situation will not improve.

  • If they are not given basic education, their map in the classroom will be just the cramped slum outside the classroom window.

  • Like the tomb or cemetery confines the dead body under the soil, likewise the slum that exists outside the classroom window will also restrict the growth and development of the child.

  • The poet requests the authorities to voluntarily take initiative to facilitate basic education , otherwise, these children will grow up to become violent and indulge in destructive activities.

NCERT Solution ( Page 94)

2. What do you think is the colour of ‘sour cream’? Why do you think the poet has used this expression to describe the classroom walls?

Ans: The colour of ‘sour cream’ is ‘pale yellow’.

The poet has used this expression to describe the dull and pale walls of the classroom in a slum. The ‘sour cream’ symbolizes the morbid atmosphere of the classroom owing to the indifference of the authorities to the learning needs of the slum children.

3. The walls of the classroom are decorated with the pictures of ‘Shakespeare’, ‘buildings with domes’, ‘world maps’ and ‘beautiful valley’. How do these contrast with the world of these children?

Ans: These fanciful pictures consisting of civilized society and beautiful natural landscapes are irrelevant to the learning needs of slum children.

These pictures represent a progressive and advanced society in which these slum children can never have access to due to their glaring poverty. These children live in an environment of poverty, hunger, scarcity and disease in a pathetic condition in contrast to the prosperous and developing world as depicted on the classroom walls. Therefore, these pictures are irrelevant as they can have negative impact in the minds of the children.

4. What does the poet want for the children of the slums? How can their lives be made to changes?

Ans: The poet wants the slum children to come out of their glaring poverty and malnutrition. He also wants them to have access to basic education.

Their lives can be made to changes only when the authorities in power extend their helping hands and cater to the educational and nutritional needs of the children. If the basic school infrastructure, books, shelter and food are facilitated to these children, their educational needs can be fulfilled and malnutrition be curved in the long run.

Extra Qustions

How is ‘Shakespeare wicked and the map a bad example’ for the children of the school in a slum? Ans : The lives of slum children have no access to what is displayed on the walls. Shakespeare showcases an array of ambitious characters and a host of royal scenes, which are quite irrelevant to the slum children. The map also shows the foreign land with beautiful landscapes. The slum children cannot ever visit such places. Therefore, Shakespeare and the map is a bad example for the slum children.

2. Which words/phrases in the poem show that the slum children are suffering from acute malnutrition? Ans : ‘Stunted’, ‘twisted bones’ ‘paper-seeming boy’, ‘skin peeped through by bones’, etc. are some of the words/phrases that show the conditions of acute malnutrition of the slum children.

3. What changes does the poet hope for in the lives of slum children? Ans : The poet exhorts the people in power to improve the plight of the slum children and break their windows which shut the growth of these children. He asks them to show the children the green fields and golden sands. The poet hopes that if these children are facilitated proper infrastructure for education, they will mould the history in their favour.

For the MCQ Worksheet of this lesson, Click Here.



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