CBSE Class 12 English - An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum 

About the Poet: Stephen Spender was an English poet and essayist he was a socialist and pacifist too.

The Theme of the poem:

  • He has concentrated on the themes of social injustice and class inequalities.
  • As the title of the poem suggests that the poet is talking about a classroom in a slum so the setting of the poem remains the same throughout. He is writing about what he observes about inside this small classroom.

Far far…………… other than this” (First stanza)


    1. Gusty Waves – Strong waves

    2. Rootless Weeds – Unwanted plants (here it is used for the children      dwelling in slums)

    3. Pallor – Pale coloring of the face, out of illness or fear.

    4. Stunted – Not properly developed

    5. Paper- seeming – Very thin boy

    6. Gnarled – Twisted and rough

    7. Heir –Successor


  • In the following lines far far away the poet has used repetition to lay stress on the distance that is very far away from the normal life.
  • Like “rootless weeds, the hair was torn round their pallor” by comparing these children to rootless weeds he means that like weeds are unwanted plants and grow anywhere these children are treated like they are unwanted by the society. Their hair is scattered around their face or uncombed and lie shabbily around their face.
  • Roots are meant to hold the plant to the ground and provide a channel for food for the plant. Thus, without roots, the plant cannot hold itself to the ground and subsequently dies off.
  • Weeds are unwanted plants that are uprooted to provide space and reduce competition for nutrients with the wanted plants. Thus, children suffer a double tragedy. They are not only unwanted, but they also lack support. They are hopeless.
  • Rootless, because they don’t have a stable background. Therefore the poet is trying to say that far away from our normal life where children usually have to go to school unlike these children who live in a slum and have to help their parents to earn a living, they are unwanted by the society because  nobody cares about them and because like normal children they don’t have permanent houses to live in their hair aren’t made but torn around their face.
  • The tall girl is sitting with her head “weighed down” from the responsibilities  and also because she is very tired and feeling sleepy, the “paper seeming” boy here signifies that the boy is very thin and is suffering from malnutrition, with rat’s eyes means that he is searching for something, probably food.
  • Then we are told of a boy who is stunted that means he is very short or his growth is stunted and he is an unlucky heir of twisted bones which means that this boy is suffering from rickets by birth, unlucky heir means that even his father is suffering from it and therefore it has been passed to his son
  • There is a boy sitting at the back of the dim class which means the classroom is not well lit he is unnoticed by others but the poet finds him sweet and young, he is dreaming with his eyes open or you can say that he is daydreaming of escaping out into open and playing with the squirrel in tree houses rather than being in this small room, there is an antithesis between openness of the tree room and dim closed classroom.

The crux of the stanza

Through this stanza, the poet is showing the world of the children who are living in the slum far away from liveliness and joys of life. He points at the physical condition of these young ones by telling us that some are malnourished because they do not get proper food to eat and some are the heir of unlucky disease implying the fact that even their parents lived in the same conditions.  Even after living such a difficult life these children’s eyes are filled with dreams.

“On sour…………………..stars of words” (Second stanza)


   1. Sour -   Damp walls

   2. Civilized – It means good mannered

   3. Stars of words − Books or education

The poet continues further by telling us about the condition of the classroom in which these children are sitting.

  • “Sour cream” walls indicate that the walls are not even painted properly and it is damp turning its color to pale.
  • These walls have posters that are probably donated to this school. There are certain paintings that are hung on these walls like those of  Shakespeare’s head, cloudless dawn, civilized dome riding all cities. 
  • The poster of Tyrolese Valley is full of churches and flowery which symbolizes the beauty of nature. Along with the open-handed map (use of metaphor, map signifies that it’s sharing its knowledge).  These paintings and maps stand in contrast to the world in which these children are living.
  • These flower, Tyrolese valley aren’t the truth for these children because they are living in the slum where you don’t find all these beautiful sceneries rather it's polluted and stingy with narrow lanes.
  • The life of slum and the people living in these slums is far more uncivilized. 

The color of sour cream is pale yellow which is same as the color of the classroom wall in the slum because it’s damp and color has worn out.

“Surely Shakespeare………………big as doom “(Third stanza)


1. Wicked − Morally wrong

2. Tempting – Attractive or appealing

3. Slyly − Secretly

4. Cramped − does not have enough space for the people in it.

5. Slag heap− The pile of waste material that remains after the metal has been removed from rock.

6. Mended − Repaired

7. Blot   Stain made by ink


  • In the following lines the poet is telling us that all those images of what an ideal world should be for the children where they can learn and grow are surely wicked because these children are brought up in such a way that they are looking for bad qualities in everyone, the map is a bad example to be hung there, the ships and the sun which these children have never seen in their lives and the desire for  love and acceptance from the society  will only tempt them to steal.
  • But their lives aren’t anything of that sort, in fact, they live in houses that are cramped (to indicate small homes filled beyond their capacity) and from fog to endless night means that these children living in the slum have never seen a clear sky, there is so much pollution that the sky is always covered with fog no matter day or night.  For them, it is always the night because of the blackened lead sky. 
  • On the untidy heap where these children are sitting and are wearing clothes that are torn from several places from which their skin is seen through bones and their spectacles are made up of steel with broken or mended glass that appears like the broken bits of glass bottle spread on stones.
  • All their time and space is foggy slum the poet uses a metaphor to show that their life is dark, dirty and without hope. Their chances of escaping have been further reduced by building bigger slums.

“Unless governor………………language is the sun” (Fourth stanza)


1. Catacombs: a long underground gallery with excavations in its sides for tombs. The name catacombs before the seventeenth century were applied to the subterranean cemeteries, near Rome.

2. Azure: bright blue color in the sky

  • The poet is urging the Government and the public to make these maps on the walls, the children’s vision.
  • The classroom windows which have restricted their opportunities have to break open. 
  • Break O Break repetition and alliteration show the urgency to help these children so that they could escape this slum and achieve their dreams. Only the governor, the inspector, the visitor can help them to be free and show them the open green fields, the clean environment and so that they can run on sunny, warm sands and make the books or education accessible to them.
  • White and green leaves are a metaphor used by the poet where white signifies pages of book and green implies the clean environment.
  • The last line of the poem is the most important one because it means that history belongs to those or the people who make history are ones who are able to speak, think and be as radiant as the sun.


  • Like tootles weeds
  • Like bottle bits on stones
  • Like catacombs
  • Slums as big as domes
          • Rat’s eyes
          • Fathers gnarled disease
          • Squirrel’s head
          • Tree room
          • Future’s painted with fog
          • Lead sky
          • Spectacles of steel        


  • Paper seeming boy
  • Sour cream walls
  • Rootless weeds
  • Twisted bones
  • Shakespeare’s head
  • Open-handed map
  • Ship and sun
  • Framed holes
  • Gusty waves