2 An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum About the poet Stephen Spender (1909-1995) was an English poet and an essayist. He left University College, Oxford without taking a degree and went to Berlin in 1930. Spender took a keen interest in politics and declared himself to be a socialist and pacifist. Books by Spender include Poems of Dedication, The Edge of Being, The Creative Element, The Struggle of the Modern and an autobiography, World Within World. In, An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum, he has concentrated on themes of social injustice and class inequalities. Before you read Have you ever visited or seen an elementary school in a slum? What does it look like? 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. 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. 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 slum. So blot their maps with slums as big as doom. 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. Tyrolese valley : catacombs : pertaining to the Tyrol, an Austrian Alpine province a long underground gallery with excavations in its sides for tombs. The name catacombs, before the seventeenth century was applied to the subterranean cemeteries, near Rome Think it out 1. Tick the item which best answers the following. (a) The tall girl with her head weighed down means The girl (i) is ill and exhausted An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum/93 (ii) has her head bent with shame (iii) has untidy hair(b) The paper-seeming boy with rat’s eyes means The boy is (i) sly and secretive (ii) thin, hungry and weak (iii) unpleasant looking (c) The stunted, unlucky heir of twisted bones means The boy (i) has an inherited disability (ii) was short and bony (d) His eyes live in a dream, A squirrel’s game, in the tree room other than this means The boy is (i) full of hope in the future (ii) mentally ill (iii) distracted from the lesson (e) The children’s faces are compared to ‘rootless weeds’ This means they (i) are insecure (ii) are ill-fed (iii) are wasters 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? 3. The walls of the classroom are decorated with the pictures of ‘Shakespeare’, ‘buildings with domes’, ‘world maps’ and beautiful valleys. How do these contrast with the world of these children? 4. What does the poet want for the children of the slums? How can their lives be made to change ? Notice how the poet picturises the condition of the slum children. Notice the contrasting images in the poem — for example, A narrow street sealed in with a lead sky Far far from rivers, capes, and stars of words. 94/Flamingo

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4

A Thing of Beauty


About the Poet

John Keats (1795-1821) was a British Romantic poet. Although trained to be a surgeon, Keats decided to devote himself wholly to poetry. Keats’ secret, his power to sway and delight the readers, lies primarily in his gift for perceiving the world and living his moods and aspirations in terms of language. The following is an excerpt from his poem ‘Endymion; A Poetic Romance’. The poem is based on a Greek legend, in which Endymion, a beautiful young shepherd and poet who lived on Mount Latmos, had a vision of Cynthia, the Moon Goddess. The enchanted youth resolved to seek her out and so wandered away through the forest and down under the sea.

Before you read

What pleasure does a beautiful thing give us? Are beautiful things worth treasuring?

A thing of beauty is a joy forever A thing of beauty is a joy forever Pass into nothingness; but will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing A flowery band to bind us to the earth, Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth Of noble natures, of the gloomy days, Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all, Some shape of beauty moves away the pall From our dark spirits.

Such the sun, the moon, Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon For simple sheep; and such are daffodils With the green world they live in; and clear rills That for themselves a cooling covert make ‘Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake, Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms; And such too is the grandeur of the dooms We have imagined for the mighty dead; All lovely tales that we have heard or read; An endless fountain of immortal drink, Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

rills : small streams

brake : thick mass of ferns

Think it out

1. List the things of beauty mentioned in the poem.

2. List the things that cause suffering and pain.

3. What does the line, ‘Therefore are we wreathing a flowery band to bind us to earth’ suggest to you?

4. What makes human beings love life in spite of troubles and sufferings?

5. Why is ‘grandeur’ associated with the ‘mighty dead’?

6. Do we experience things of beauty only for short moments or do they make a lasting impression on us?

7. What image does the poet use to describe the beautiful bounty of the earth?

Notice the consistency in rhyme scheme and line length. Also notice the balance in each sentence of the poem, as in,

Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,

Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways

Made for our searching: yes in spite of all,

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