An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum by Stephen Spender

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Today, I will dive in deep to explain the Poem ‘An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum by Stephen Spender’. I ensure you will get a complete idea to write the summary, central idea, and explanation of the poem orderly. You will be able to write the specification and figure of speech used in this poem too. After reading this page you will find the secret to score outstanding marks in the board examination.

Let’s get started

  • About the Poet,
  • Short introduction of the Poem
  • Stanza-wise explanation along with reference and context
  • Keywords and Quick Point after each Stanza
  • Quiz: to check the level of understanding
  • The central idea of  The Poem
  • Videos just like a live class
  • Relevant Quotations and statements
  • Specification (Themes and Figures of speech etc.)

About the Poet

Sir Stephen Harold Spender CBE was an English poet, novelist and essayist whose work concentrated on themes of social injustice and the class struggle. He was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the United States Library of Congress in 1965. (Wiki…)

Award and Honor-Spender was awarded the Golden PEN Award in 1995


  • Spiritual Exercises (1943)
  • Poems of Dedication (1947)
  • The Edge of Being (1949)
  • Collected Poems, 1928–1953 (1955)
  • Selected Poems (1965)
  • The Express (1966)
  • The Generous Days (1971)
  • The Backward Son (1940)
  • Engaged in Writing (1958)
  • The Temple (written 1929)

Introduction of the Poem

In this poem, Stephen Spender describes the social inequalities prevailing in society. He describes the poor condition of the students of an elementary school situated in a slum area. The poet tries to draw the attention of everyone towards these children so that their life can be improved and they may get trained to become ideal citizens rather than villainous and criminals. This poem is written in free verse, there is no rhyme scheme.

इस कविता में स्टीफन स्पेंडर समाज में व्याप्त सामाजिक असमानताओं का वर्णन करते हैं। वह एक स्लम क्षेत्र में स्थित एक प्राथमिक विद्यालय के छात्रों की खराब स्थिति का वर्णन करता है। कवि इन बच्चों की ओर सभी का ध्यान आकर्षित करने का प्रयास करता है ताकि उनके जीवन को बेहतर बनाया जा सके और वे खलनायक और अपराधी के बजाय आदर्श नागरिक बनने के लिए प्रशिक्षित हो सकें। यह कविता मुक्त छंद में लिखी गई है, इसमें तुकबंदी की कोई योजना नहीं है।

An Elementary school classroom in a slum: Summary

In this poem, Stephen Spender gives a vivid description of a school classroom and its children located in a slum.
The physical appearance esp. faces of the children are dull and wearisome. Their appearance shows that they are unwanted, no one is caring for them humanely.

The children have murky and unhappy faces. Their heads hanging low in gloomy due to being poor. They have unhealthy bodies inherited from their parents and are victims of poverty. At the dim end of the room, sits one child who has bright eyes which seem to have a dream – of playing outside with squirrels. He is different from the others in the dim, darkroom.
The walls of the classroom are dirty. People have donated different charts and images which have been put upon them. One of them is a picture Of the great playwright Shakespeare. His head is bald and resembles the rising Sun. The next poster is of the Tyrolese valley, full of churches and flowers which symbolizes the beautiful creations of nature.

Another one is a map of the World. To these children, the world is not the one shown in these pictures, but it is the one they see out of the classroom window. They are trapped in the slums. Their future is dim and hopeless. They have a dark future as their options in life are limited and are covered with dismay. They are far away from the bright light of knowledge.
Comprehending these pictures is beyond their abilities. They hate everyone and for them, Shakespeare is a wicked man. As no one loves them, they dislike everyone. the desire for love and acceptance forces them to do crimes like stealing. The children are so skinny that their clothes are like skin and their skeleton is visible through them.

This is due to a lack of nutrition. They have worn-looking glasses made of steel which are cheap, heavy, and uncomfortable. Their chances of fulfilling their dreams and moving out have been further reduced by building bigger slums. Until they come out of the slums, they will never know what the world looks like.

The Government system which makes these slums is the cause for these people to live in them. The education system is such that it forces them to live in these slums. They are not given the right to dream beyond these slums. They have been restricted to the area.

The poet requests the authorities to allow these children to go out of these slums so that the maps on the walls of the classroom become a reality for them.  They should be taken to the green fields rather than the dim slums. The sunny, warm sand of the beaches and the bright blue sky will instil a hunger for knowledge in their minds. Then they will absorb all of it. Then these children will become economically empowered. The poem ends with a powerful line – those who make history are the ones who shine like the Sun.

An Elementary school classroom in a slum: Hindi Summary

इस कविता में, स्टीफन स्पेंडर एक स्कूल की कक्षा और एक झुग्गी में स्थित उसके बच्चों का विशद विवरण देता है।
शारीरिक उपस्थिति esp। बच्चों के चेहरे सुस्त और थके हुए हैं। उनकी उपस्थिति से पता चलता है कि वे अवांछित हैं, कोई भी उनकी मानवीय देखभाल नहीं कर रहा है। बच्चों के उदास और उदास चेहरे हैं।

गरीब होने के कारण उनका सिर मायूसी से लटक रहा है। उनके पास अपने माता-पिता से विरासत में मिले अस्वस्थ शरीर हैं और वे गरीबी के शिकार हैं। कमरे के धुँधले सिरे पर, एक बच्चा बैठा है जिसकी आँखों में चमक है जो एक सपना है – गिलहरी के साथ बाहर खेलने का। वह मंद, अँधेरे कमरे में दूसरों से अलग है।

कक्षा की दीवारें गंदी हैं। लोगों ने अलग-अलग चार्ट और चित्र दान किए हैं जो उन पर लगाए गए हैं। इन्हीं में से एक है महान नाटककार शेक्सपियर का चित्र। उसका सिर गंजा है और उगते सूरज जैसा दिखता है। अगला पोस्टर चर्च और फूलों से भरी टायरोलिस घाटी का है जो प्रकृति की सुंदर रचनाओं का प्रतीक है। एक और दुनिया का नक्शा है। इन बच्चों के लिए, दुनिया वह नहीं है जो इन तस्वीरों में दिखाई देती है, बल्कि यह वही है जो वे कक्षा की खिड़की से देखते हैं।

वे झुग्गियों में फंस गए हैं। उनका भविष्य अंधकारमय और निराशाजनक है। उनका भविष्य अंधकारमय है क्योंकि जीवन में उनके विकल्प सीमित हैं और निराशा से भरे हुए हैं। वे ज्ञान के तेज प्रकाश से कोसों दूर हैं।
इन तस्वीरों को समझना उनकी क्षमता से परे है। वे सभी से घृणा करते हैं और उनके लिए शेक्सपियर एक दुष्ट व्यक्ति है। जैसे कोई उन्हें प्यार नहीं करता, वे सभी को नापसंद करते हैं। प्यार और स्वीकृति की इच्छा उन्हें चोरी जैसे अपराध करने के लिए मजबूर करती है।

बच्चे इतने दुबले-पतले होते हैं कि उनके कपड़े त्वचा की तरह होते हैं और उनके माध्यम से उनका कंकाल दिखाई देता है। यह पोषण की कमी के कारण होता है। उनके पास स्टील से बने घिसे-पिटे चश्मे हैं जो सस्ते, भारी और असुविधाजनक हैं। उनके सपनों को पूरा करने और बाहर जाने की संभावनाओं को बड़ी झुग्गियों के निर्माण से और कम कर दिया गया है। जब तक वे झुग्गी-झोपड़ियों से बाहर नहीं निकलेंगे, उन्हें कभी पता नहीं चलेगा कि दुनिया कैसी दिखती है।

इन झुग्गियों को बनाने वाली सरकारी व्यवस्था ही इन लोगों के इनमें रहने का कारण है। शिक्षा व्यवस्था ऐसी है कि उन्हें इन झुग्गियों में रहने को मजबूर कर देती है। उन्हें इन झुग्गी बस्तियों के बाहर सपने देखने का अधिकार नहीं है। उन्हें मलिन बस्तियों तक सीमित कर दिया गया है।

कवि अधिकारियों से इन बच्चों को इन मलिन बस्तियों से बाहर जाने की अनुमति देने का अनुरोध करता है ताकि कक्षा की दीवारों पर लगे नक्शे उनके लिए एक वास्तविकता बन जाएं। उन्हें मंद झुग्गी बस्तियों के बजाय हरे भरे खेतों में ले जाना चाहिए। समुद्र तटों की धूप, गर्म रेत और चमकीला नीला आकाश उनके मन में ज्ञान की भूख जगाएगा। तब वे यह सब अवशोषित कर लेंगे। तभी ये बच्चे आर्थिक रूप से सशक्त होंगे। कविता एक शक्तिशाली पंक्ति के साथ समाप्त होती है – जो इतिहास रचते हैं, वे सूर्य की तरह चमकते हैं।

Poem: An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum

Far far from gusty waves these children’s faces.
Like rootless weeds, the hair was 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.

Difficult Words and Meanings

  • Gusty waves: breezy winds
  • rootless weeds: They do not belong to the society
  • Pallor: pale, dull face
  • Stunted: not fully grown due to malnutrition
  • Gnarled: Knotted, rough
  • Paper seeming boy: Very thin boy, as thin as a sheet of paper
  • heir: Successor

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.

Difficult Words and Meanings

  • Sour: unpleasant, here refers to the colour of sour cream -off white or creamish
  • Donations: things given or received in charity
  • Dawn: early morning, sunrise
  • civilized dome: here, it means rising sun at the horizon which is in the shape of a dome (semi – circle)
  • Tyrolese valley: A beautiful ice-free valley in Austria
  • Sealed: shut or locked
  • lead: here, dark future of kids
  • Capes:A large piece of land that sticks out into the sea from the coast

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

Difficult Words and Meanings

  • Wicked: evil
  • Tempted: persuade
  • Slyly: trickily
  • Cramped: confined
  • Slag: weak
  • Mended: repaired
  • Blot: to mark with a spot
  • Doom: disaster

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.

Difficult Words and Meanings

  • Catacombs: tomb, cemetery
  • Azure: deep blue

Central Idea of The Poem: An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum

In this poem, Stephen Spender has presented a true picture of the life of the school children living in a slum. The children are living in very miserable conditions due to their poverty and illiteracy. They are very depressed. Anyone can see the sadness on their pale faces. They are weak and lean because of not getting proper nourishment their bonnes peeped out their skins. They are like rootless weeds which can’t resist anything for their existence. They are physically very weak and undernourished. Spender is much worried about these children who live all their life in slum and have no opportunity to enjoy the real blessings of life. In the last he makes a frantic appeal to the authorities, the educated and affluent sections of the society to make the life of slum children better through education. It will remove social injustice and class inequality.

इस कविता में स्टीफन स्पेंडर ने एक झुग्गी बस्ती में रहने वाले स्कूली बच्चों के जीवन की सच्ची तस्वीर पेश की है। गरीबी और अशिक्षा के कारण बच्चे बहुत ही दयनीय स्थिति में रह रहे हैं। वे बहुत उदास हैं। किसी के भी पीले चेहरों पर उदासी देखी जा सकती है। वे कमजोर और दुबले-पतले हैं क्योंकि उचित पोषण नहीं मिलने के कारण उनकी हड्डियों ने उनकी खाल को झाँक दिया। वे जड़ रहित खरपतवार की तरह हैं जो अपने अस्तित्व के लिए किसी भी चीज का विरोध नहीं कर सकते। वे शारीरिक रूप से बहुत कमजोर और कुपोषित हैं। स्पेंडर इन बच्चों के बारे में बहुत चिंतित है जो अपना सारा जीवन झुग्गी में रहते हैं और जीवन के वास्तविक आशीर्वाद का आनंद लेने का कोई अवसर नहीं है। अंत में वह अधिकारियों, समाज के शिक्षित और संपन्न वर्गों से शिक्षा के माध्यम से झुग्गी-झोपड़ी के बच्चों के जीवन को बेहतर बनाने की उन्मत्त अपील करता है। यह सामाजिक अन्याय और वर्ग असमानता को दूर करेगा।

Questions and Answers

Q.1. What does the poet want for the children of the slums? How can their lives be made to change?

A. The poet wants the governor, inspector, and visitors to visit the school. He wants them to see the plight of these kids and do something for their betterment. These kids should be provided with the best amenities in order to make their life better. He wants these kids to visit beautiful places which are granted by the nature with its beauty. This will instill a hunger in them to study in order to make their life better.

Q.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?

A. The colour of sour cream is pale and dull. The poet used this expression to describe the classroom walls because the walls were not freshly painted. The walls of the classroom were dull, not beautiful.

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

A. The various pictures on the wall are not similar to the world of these slum-dwelling children because they have never got adequate facilities and education. They have always seen crime happening around them. That is why it is said in the poem that for these children Shakespeare is a wicked man. Not only this, their world is the dirty slum area in which they live which is continuously expanding. Hence, the world maps which never show slums and the beautiful valley which is never seen and is out of reach of such children are in total contrast to what they see as their worl

Q.4. How does the poet describe the walls of the classroom wall?

A. The poet says that the walls of the classroom are cream. They smell like sour cream. There is a bust of Shakespeare in the classroom. There are pictures of a big church and Tyrolese valley having bell-shaped flowers. There is an open-handed map, which shows all the places in the world.

Q.5. What message does Stephen Spender convey through the poem ‘An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum’?

A.The message conveyed in this poem is that the children living in the slum should be given better facilities. They should be taken out of their slums. Only then they can become useful citizens.

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