“Compare and contrast the different moods, themes and ideas created in the ‘childhood’ poems from Section C of the anthology”


Main Point 1 – The poems illustrate the idea of growing up and the progression from childhood to adulthood.

Sub Point A: The innocence and naivety of childhood is illustrated briefly by Louis MacNeice.

Evidence:      “blood-sucking bat”

Explanation: These are childish horrors which seem exaggerated in the context. The connotations of vampires further emphasises the fact that these fears are hyperboles and are supernatural but they are more defined fears showing the innocence of the child.


Evidence:      The fear of supernatural horrors is foregrounded.

Explanation: This is the first stanza of the poem so the childish supernatural fears are foregrounded further emphasising the innocence and naivety of the young unborn baby.


Evidence:      “I am not yet born; O hear me”

Explanation: This is a plea which evokes pathos. The cesura makes it sound like a prayer especially when used with “O”. The plea comes from an unborn child so it emphasises the naivety and innocence of the child. “I am not yet born” is also used at the start of each other stanza, representing the cyclical routine of life. This represents the innocence of childhood as they have no idea of the impacts of their surroundings on their own life; this shows naivety.


Evidence:      “Gettinguptime, timeyouwereofftime”

Explanation:  The poem, Half-past Two by U.A. Fanthorpe, is written in the third person observer for most of the poem but in this phrase, the use of free indirect discourse gives the feeling of sharing and intimacy between the reader and the persona. This brings the innocence of the words to life as well as the childish tone used. The measures of time for this child are events which seems natural.



Sub Point B: The innocence of childhood is illustrated and is contrasted with the corruption of adults in the poem Once Upon A Time by Gabriel Okara.

Evidence:      “I was like you”

Explanation: This is used at the end of the poem after the poet has already described the false, uncaring atmosphere that has become the modern world. It shows that the son does not possess these emotions and can be an example of innocence and care for the adults as “was” implies that the man, who now lives a duplicitous life, was like his “son” when he was younger.


Evidence:      “Once upon a time,son”

Explanation: This starts as though it is a fairytale; it is in fact a tale of many horrors so this contrast emphasises the deterioration of society. The innocence of childhood is portrayed through the wording although the parent is in control of this situation. This also creates the impression that the positive features of the place are now gone and have been for a long time.


Evidence:      “unlearn all these muting things”

Explanation: This shows that as the adult has grown, the persona has learned the unnatural behaviours that are now natural to them. This depicts the child as natural and innocent as they have not yet “learned” the forced manners of modern society. The word “muting” suggests that the actions of adults are once again unnatural, especially compared to children.



Sub Point C: Louis MacNeice shows how development to adulthood taints the innocence of childhood.

Evidence:      “desert calls me to doom”

Explanation: This natural image, as used for hope in the third stanza, is now negative due to the use of the word “doom”. The poet is trying to indicate that although nature implies peace and freedom, in the modern world people are alone in these things and that there is no escape as “desert” has connotations of being large and mostly empty as well as being hard to survive within.


Evidence:      Enjambment is used in most stanzas

Explanation:  Enjambment creates the sense that the struggles of adult life are overwhelming, contrasting with the innocence of childhood portrayed in the first stanza. Enjambment in phrases such as “freeze my humanity” could also indicate the life for adults is monotonous and lacks the excitement of childhood as well as the fact that everyone in “the world” is now the same so no one possesses the purity of childhood. The enjambment in the fifth stanza is used in a list to show the large scale of the problems with adulthood, again contrasting this to the innocence of childhood.


Evidence:      Increase in stanza length

Explanation:  As the fears mentioned in the poem become more mature and progress to the fears of an adult, the stanzas describing them become longer and more detailed. This shows that as you progress to adulthood, life becomes more of a struggle on a day to day basis compared to the easy innocence of childhood.


Evidence:      “weeps to belong”

Explanation: This quote is taken from Piano: a poem written by D. H. Lawrence. The poet has created an image of the happiness and warmth of childhood but then placed the reader outside of this image with the use of “belong”. Once outside, the reader feels that adulthood lacks some of the warmth and vitality of childhood which is further emphasised by the longing created by the poet for the past. The context for Lawrence’s poem is that while younger, he was brought up by his parents: his father was a failing coal miner and his mother was an educated woman who had been forced to marry when her family fell on hard times. Their marriage was a failure and Lawrence was close to his mother as a result. When she got cancer in 1910, he ultimately helped her to die by overdose as a relief from her cancer.



Main Point 2 – The theme of identity is portrayed through the poems.

Sub Point A: MacNeice portrays identity through the fear of being controlled and losing identity.

Evidence:      “walls wall me”

Explanation:  This phrase creates a claustrophobic atmosphere as the child is being surrounded by “the world”. This shows restricted freedom and the “walls” also stop social interaction so there can be no reconnection to the ideal world or God. Furthermore, the repetition and cesura after this statement emphasise the fact that the baby doesn’t want to be controlled as this will mean that the baby has lost it’s personal identity.


Evidence:      “my thoughts when they think me”

Explanation: In this phrase, the thoughts are personified which seems to make them more powerful and realistic. The word “they” is positioned first and the persona is the object of the verb, indicating he is powerless and can be controlled by others. This inspires fear as the persona doesn’t wish to lose their identity.


Evidence:      “a thing with one face”

Explanation:  The word “thing” implies that “they” are not human. The persona fears this as the persona would become a small part of “the world” and therefore lose their identity. The “face” emphasises the fact that body and soul can be separated as implied in “dissipate my entirety”. This would further emphasis that the persona fears losing their identity.


Evidence:      “hither and thither or hither and thither”

Explanation: The repetition of the same phrase emphasises the uncertainty and makes the phrase seem sinister with the fricative “th” and aperitif “h” sounds. The fact that the soul can be spread out reveals that the persona has no control and can easily lose their identity in the world. Furthermore “thistledown” is an image of happiness which contrasts with the fear but also implies weakness.



Evidence:      “make me a stone”

Explanation: Connotations of stone are lifeless and unemotional. This indicates that the persona is afraid of losing their identity as the persona wants to continue to care and live with freedom rather than being controlled by others.



Sub Point B: Okara reveals how once your identity is formed, it can be corrupted by others.

Evidence:      Repetition of “they”

Explanation:  This is a general pronoun and demonstrates that the unborn baby feels threatened by everyone or “the world”. This also indicates that the persona feels that “they” can corrupt him easily as there are many. Once corrupted, you have lost your identity and become an “automaton”.


Evidence:      Progression from “they” to “I”

Explanation: This shows that the persona is conforming towards what he once feared. This shows how the reader has been corrupted by the others in the world. He has gained the negative attributes that he once despised in others He is now a small part in the world and is acting like the others, emotionless and uncaring.


Evidence:      “I have learned”

Explanation:  The word “learn” and similar words are used often in the poem when describing how the persona’s life has changed. This implies that these bad behaviours must be taught by others and that these people have corrupted the identity of the persona as he no longer has control.


Evidence:      List of faces

Explanation: This list of different faces reminds me of masks that can be worn for different occasions such as “hostface”. These are dishonest and emotionless as none reveal the true identity of the persona. These have been copied from others so therefore the persona has been corrupted by others who wear these faces. Once wearing the face or mask, you lose your own identity.


Evidence:      “shake hands without my heart”

Explanation: In the second stanza, the parent talking explains about shaking hands. In this stanza, “they” is used to describe the people who “shake hands without hearts”. Now the persona has been corrupted by others and does what they do, even if the persona doesn’t believe in it. This shows the parent has lost a part of their identity.


Evidence:      “But where are they who sought you?”

Explanation: This is the conclusion of the poem Hide and Seek by Vernon Scannell. The child playing a game of hide and seek has come out to find that the others seeking him have left. The third person narrator shows a more mature view showing that childhood experiences help to form the identity. A first person voice is sometimes used to show personality at the time. In the game you must be found but in reality you must find your own identity as shown by this rhetorical question. Context: Okara’s poems examine the cultural indecision most Africans face when choosing between European colonisers and African heritage. Many suffer from “culture shock” as they yearn for the privileges of European life such as education and healthcare but in embracing this, they betray the unspoken expectation of African heritage. The poem Once Upon A Time clearly describes what happens when two cultures clash and people are unable to react appropriately without guidance.



Main Point 3 – The poems expose the idea of the difficult reality of life; both physically and            emotionally.

Sub Point A: Achebe describes the harsh conditions within the refugee camps.

Evidence:      “blown-empty bellies”, “dried-up bottoms”

Explanation: Both these phrases indicate the harsh conditions and poverty within the refugee camps as they are strong mental images. It creates an image of a dirty, uncaring place which is disgusting. “blown-empty” is a contrast in connotations which suggests that the child is hollow. This underlines the starvation and poverty within the camp subtly and is used at the end so that the reader is left with a strong image. Soft plosives in “bottoms” make the reader feel sad and inspire pathos as these children are starving. This once again subtly indicates the horrific conditions in the camp while drawing the reader’s attention to the most dramatic living conditions.


Evidence:      Enjambment in lines 6-7

Explanation: The enjambment between these lines emphasises the suffering as well as making the children’s suffering seem endless and very painful. It also assists in the depiction of the children as weak and helpless. 


Evidence:      “air was heavy with odors of diarrhea”

Explanation: The word “diarrhea” has connotations of disease so the reader feels disgusted by the sick children as well as feeling sympathy. The word “heavy” produces an atmosphere of suffocation and makes the reader feel surrounded. Literally, the smells and sounds are heavy in the air but metaphorically, the mood is tragic as these children are not destined to live.


Evidence:      “rust-colored hair left on his skull”

Explanation: The word “rust” has connotations of decay which could be reference to the disease that this child could be suffering from. The writer has used “skull” rather than head. This has connotations of illness and also death. Alternatively, “skull” could be used to imply how starving the body is as you can see his bones through his skin. Finally, this contrasts with the love and care of the mother to emphasis the horrific conditions in the refugee camp. Context: Nigerian poet Chinua Achebe wrote A Mother in a Refugee Camp after experiencing the refugee camps used by the Biafran people. The Nigerian civil war took place in 1967 as Biafra wanted independence from the newly independent country of Nigeria. Achebe was an ambassador for the Republic of Biafra. But the civil war didn’t end well for the Biafran people as the Nigerian government prevented food and medical supplies from reaching the refugee camps. It is estimated that between one and three million people died; mostly innocent civilians who were malnourished.



Sub Point B: MacNeice exposes the brutal struggle of life through the eyes of an unborn baby.

Evidence:      “black racks rack me”

Explanation: There is repetition of the word “rack” which emphasises the fact that he is captured and also implies that the persona feels tortured by the harsh reality of the real world. The harsh consonants of the repeated “k” suggest that the reality of life is brutal but also somewhat harsh. Finally the word “black” has connotations of darkness and evil which is what the writer wants associated with the modern world.


Evidence:      “mountains frown at me”

Explanation: This phrase is very powerful. The natural images portrayed in the third stanza are now negatively portrayed. Nature has connotations of peace and life-giving but when used with “frown”, nature appears threatening and cold. This contrast demonstrates that reality is brutal and there is little care left in the world.


Evidence:      “console me”

Explanation:  This is a prayer, not for physical aid, but for emotional stability. The persona feels fear for the harsh reality of the world and the reader feels this and pathos is inspired. Furthermore, the reader can tell from the large volume of helpless emotions portrayed through the tone that the persona is truly afraid of brutal life in the real world. Finally, this creates an impression of the innocence of the child which emphasises the horror of the real world.


Evidence:      “who is beast or who thinks he is God”

Explanation: These comparisons between a “beast” and “God” should be contrasted but are not. This reveals a sense of evil that surrounds “the man” although this could be any man in the world. The unknown just emphasises the fear of this evil character. There are many interpretations for who this terrible man could be: Satan or the devil, Hitler or other general leaders and finally the reader. Each of these shows a struggle against the evil and brutal reality of life. Context: This poem was written by MacNeice during the peak of the Second World War. This poem is a result of an unhappy childhood or the rise of totalitarianism and fascism. He had many fears about the world’s tyranny and these were expressed through the poem Prayer Before Birth. Other poems by MacNeice were much more lively which are commonly interpreted as his “reaction against darkness”.



Sub Point C: Okara demonstrates that sins and corruption make life difficult.

Evidence:      “doors shut on me”

Explanation: This is an image of rejection which is clear for all readers. When the writer contrasts this with the warmth of the past, it makes the present seem empty and false. The monosyllabic words seem blunt and cold and this reflects on the people who are giving this treatment “they”.


Evidence:      The irregular rhythm of the third stanza

Explanation:  The irregular rhythm in these lines creates a sense of confusion and misunderstanding. It feels cold and uncaring as they describe greetings with an uncertain tone. Furthermore the repetition of “Come again” makes it seem like a common greeting so it loses all caring emotions that would normally be used with these statements. This is emphasised by the cold atmosphere illustrated by the writer


Evidence:      “search my empty pockets”

Explanation: This is a crime in the modern world but when described using an accepting tone, we can feel the disappointment of the persona. This shows that there is no care or honesty left in the world and also indicates the desperation of the persona.



Main Point 4 – Hope is another theme that is continued through the poems.

Sub Point A: Achebe gives a definite hopeless impression in A Mother in a Refugee Camp.

Evidence:      “putting flowers on a tiny grave.”

Explanation:  The phrase “putting flowers” implies the care and affection of the mother towards the child and evokes sorrow as the mother will definitely soon be losing her precious child. Furthermore, the word “tiny” suggests that the baby will die soon as it will still be small and young but the tone of the phrase is definite. The full stop at the end implies the end of the baby’s life and this is the last line so it reveals that there is no hope for the baby.


Evidence: “have to forget….”

Explanation:  The word “have” is said in a certain tone which implies that the death of the baby is definite and there is no choice or hope. The ellipses at the end create a pause between the loving care of the mother and the poverty of reality. This caesura allows the reader to reflect on the certain death of the baby, increasing the sadness felt by the reader as well as emphasising how helpless the mother feels in this situation. This could also indicate the hope trailing off for the mother as the lines before contained some hope whereas the next lines are hopeless and tragic.


Evidence:      “ceased to care”

Explanation: Although this phrase indicates the intensity of her care for the dying child as she will not give up like the other mothers. The reader already subconsciously knows that the baby will die as this seems to have happened before for other mothers and children. This creates immense sadness because the mother hasn’t given up hope although she is helpless and can’t possibly save the baby’s life within such harsh conditions.



Sub Point B: MacNeice portrays a small amount of hope but shows it is easily lost.

Evidence:      “grass to grow for me”

Explanation:  This is natural imagery that has connotations of a peaceful and calming atmosphere as well as freedom. This freedom is comforting as the child doesn’t feel alone instead feel loved and cared for as it should do. The alliteration further emphasises the exaggeration of the hope and positive emotions.


Evidence:      Short stanza for hopes

Explanation:  A short stanza with hopes such as “water to dandle me” demonstrates that there is a little hope in the world. This stanza is not foregrounded but is instead placed within all the fears and evil to show that this hope has been overcome by the brutal reality of the world.


Evidence:      “Otherwise kill me.”

Explanation: This is a powerful demand compared to the weak pleas made in previous stanzas. The strong consonants of “k” make it more powerful. This is an unborn child who has not been given life yet but already he is asking for death due to the terrible horrors that can be found in the outside world. This is shocking and emphasises how little hope for change there is for the world. Finally the full stop gives a definite ending to the stanza and this is found at the end of the poem which effectively emphasises how dramatic this statement is.



Sub Point C: Okara implies that there is hope for the children in the future.

Evidence:      “when I was like you”

Explanation: The first person persona has already indicated that he now possesses the uncaring and conformed actions of “the world” but at the beginning he describes these behaviours as if he doesn’t act in this way. The word “when” implies that this was long ago in the past but the son is used as an example of the good in this phrase revealing that he doesn’t possess the bad qualities.


Evidence:      “snake’s bare fangs”

Explanation: The snake is a Biblical image of evil as it is sinful, dishonest and cunning. The persona obviously identifies the other people who have corrupted him as the snake in the story of Adam and Eve so therefore the persona is either Adam or Eve, the innocent person who has been corrupted into doing evil by the snake. This means that the child in particular is God as he can offer redemption to the corrupted adults. Therefore the children provide hope for the adults.


Evidence:      “believe me”, “show me”

Explanation: These phrases both imply that the son can save the persona as the persona is asking the “son” for help facing the evil creature the persona has become. “believe” illustrates that the persona is begging for the forgiveness of the child which is once again a religious reference as people normally make these prayers to God or another celestial being. “show” asks the child to guide the persona to redemption using the child’s caring innocence as an example of how a person should be rather than the uncaring, false person the persona has become.


Evidence:      Hope in final stanzas

Explanation:  The hope in this poem is indicated in the final stanzas. As it is portrayed after the corruption and terrors of the world, the reader is under the impression that there is still hope as the ending contains some hope for the future with the innocence of childhood not followed by any corruption. The hope is also grouped to make it seem larger and more realistic.



Main Point 5 – There is a mood of nostalgia demonstrated in the poems.

Sub Point A: Okara creates a strong longing for the past.

Evidence:      Contrast within each of the first three stanzas

Explanation: The first three stanzas all begin with the positive aspects of the past such as “laugh with their hearts”. These show the warmth and care of the past of well as the honesty which leads to trust. The use of “but” allows the writer to contrast the past with the negative present. Phrases such as “shake hands without hearts” illustrate that the world has become cold and false. These contrasts within stanzas demonstrate that the persona is reminiscing on the past and wishes that the world was like the past. This is nostalgia for the past.


Evidence:      “what I used to be”

Explanation: This indicates that in the past, the persona was not emotionless and uncaring and these emotions are also unattached to the past, making it appear warm and comforting for both the reader and the persona. The persona feels nostalgia for this better past.


Evidence:      “feel at home”

Explanation:  This indicates that the persona no longer feels “at home” in the present and is longing for the caring inclusion of the past as the “at home” is placed on a separate line. This is also enjambment and illustrates the persona’s longing for the past which is emphasised through the separation.


Evidence:      “but that’s gone”

Explanation: The word “gone” is used in a definite tone to show that the enjoyable warmth of the past has left the persona now. This is used in the middle of a stanza to change for the past to the present and creates a sense of longing for the past and gives the reader a sense of the nostalgia felt by the persona for the warmth and care of the past.


Evidence:      “weep like a child for the past”

Explanation: The word “weep” implies a deep sorrow that has long been occurring and indicates that he is upset by the present events of his life. This has been repeated again within the poem as the persona indicates he doesn’t “belong” in the present and is swept back to the “glamour of childish days”. Weeping also suggests that these emotions are overwhelming for the persona. The nostalgia is for the “past” and there is irony as he is “like a child” when crying about his childhood.


Sub Point B: Achebe uses contrasts between past and present to create nostalgia.

Evidence:      “little daily act of no consequence”

Explanation: This phrase refers to the life of the mother in the past and could also be a reference to the current life of the reader as many modern people act carelessly and don’t think of the consequences of small actions. This contrasts to the desperation that has currently overcome the mother in the present and creates longing for the happier past which is nostalgia.


Evidence:      “the memory of a mother’s pride….”

Explanation: This phrase is a lot quieter and calmer than the other previous phrases describing the horrific conditions of the refugee camp. This contrast emphasises the sadness portrayed in the phrase. The word “memory” illustrates that the mother is reminiscing the past whilst gently bathing her son. She has kept the routines as she “bathed him” which shows that she is trying to hold on to the past and there is nostalgia. The ellipses at the end allow the reader to pause which emphasises the contrast between the blissful past and the troubled present.


Evidence:      “former life”

Explanation: This is found at the beginning of the description of the life the mother and child had before the refugee camp. The mother reminisces the past and the gentle, caring existence before the mother came to the refugee camp. The writer allows us to feel the mother’s nostalgia through the blunt yet caring tone of the final sentences.