Little Boy Crying
Your mouth contorting in brief spite and hurt,
your laughter metamorphosed into howls,
your frame so recently relaxed now tight
with three year old frustration, your bright eyes
swimming tears, splashing your bare feet,
you stand there angling for a moment’s hint
of guilt or sorrow for the quick slap struck.
The ogre towers above you, that grim giant,
empty of feeling, a colossal cruel,
soon victim of the tale’s conclusion, dead
at last. You hate him, you imagine
chopping clean the tree he’s scrambling down
or plotting deeper pits to trap him in.
You cannot understand, not yet,
the hurt your easy tears can scald him with,
nor guess the wavering hidden behind that mask.
This fierce man longs to lift you, curb your sadness
with piggy-back or bull fight, anything,
but dare not ruin the lessons you should learn.
You must not make a plaything of the rain.
The poem is narrating an interaction between a father and his son, who he has punished for playing in the rain. The little boy feels somewhat betrayed by his father, and finds no sign of remorse in him. So, he sees him as evil figure, likening him to the evil giant from the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. The poem accurately shows how the child feels in the moment- a sudden emotion of cold hate and anger towards this 'colossal cruel' who has harmed him. In the third stanza though, the poet introduces the perspective of the father, who evidently cares for his son. Through the child's eyes, he is painted in a light of supreme cruelty and callousness due to emotionally-caused exaggeration. The father is shown to be caring because he feels guilt and remorse when he sees the tears of his son. But the dilemma within is obvious- he doesn't enjoy making his son feel this way, but he must teach him this lesson. He wants to comfort him and show his care; but he knows that he must maintain his composure in order for his son to truly learn the lesson.
The poem is written from a third person omniscient perspective. The themes are parenting, vulnerability and childhood experiences. The mood is tense.
"Your mouth contorting in brief spite and hurt,"
This line begins to show the little boy starting to cry. His mouth twists (as shown with 'contorting'), showing not only his pain (emotional and physical) but also an attempt to spite (deliberately annoy) his father.
"your laughter metamorphosed into howls,"
Contrast is introduced here, where the laughter of the child (happiness) metamorphoses (an example of diction by the poet) into howls of pain and hurt. To metamorphose means to change completely in form or nature- so, in the same way his laughter changes to howls, his happiness changes to despair and pain.
"your frame so recently relaxed now tight with three year old frustration"
The poet continues to show contrast between his previous disposition and now- when his frame has tightened as he contracts in beginning to cry. His frame tight with 'three year old frustration,' which is sort of ironic considering that, being 3 years old, he would have very little to be frustrated about, and the harsher more oppressive concept of frustration clashes with the small non-threatening nature of a 3 year old.
"your bright eyes swimming tears, splashing your bare feet,"
This is an example of hyperbole, where the poet suggests that the child's eyes are 'swimming tears' that splash his feet. Obviously a human's eyes can't produce enough tears to literally splash upon their feet- but the poet uses this device to show the exaggerated crying of the child. The phrase 'eyes swimming tears' suggests that the child's eyes are completely submerged in tears.
"you stand there angling for a moment’s hint of guilt or sorrow for the quick slap struck."
Now the boy searches for any sign of remorse, empathy or guilt in this unnamed person who has hit him. Alliteration (slap struck) is used along with monosyllabic language ('quick slap struck,' each word is one syllable to convey the speed of the slap).
"The ogre towers above you, that grim giant, empty of feeling, a colossal cruel, soon victim of the tale’s conclusion, dead at last."
In this stanza, the little boy is now likening the evil of this unnamed person the best way he can- using fairly tales and mystical fictional evils. Using a metaphor, he refers to this person as an ogre towering over him. Using alliteration, the boy calls this person a 'grim giant' who is cold and unfeeling, and a 'colossal cruel.' This is, of course, a caricatured/exaggerated description of this man by a teary-eyed and hurt child. He is so angered and frustrated in this moment that he compares his abuser to a giant, an allusion to the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk ('...that grim giant') and hopes for him to eventually end up just like the giant at the end of the fairy tale- dead.
"You hate him, you imagine chopping clean the tree he’s scrambling down or plotting deeper pits to trap him in."
The boy continues with sentiments exaggerated by momentary pain, frustration and anger. The boy is said to hate this man, and imagines for him the same defeat as the giant in the tale- chopping down the stalk he climbs down. These plots correspond to the child's feelings of sadness and anger, he wants to defeat this person who has harmed him.
"You cannot understand, not yet, the hurt your easy tears can scald him with,"
The speaker now considers the perspective of the father. The child doesn't understand yet what happens beyond the steely exterior of his father. He doesn't know that his tears really do harm him, and that he does truly feel remorse for hurting his son. The boy cries endlessly and without restraint or difficulty, but he doesn't know that his father feels these tears and they 'scald him' like acid or hot oil.
"nor guess the wavering hidden behind that mask."
Adding to the list of things the boy doesn't understand, he cannot guess the conflict within his father that is hidden by an unfaltering facade. He doesn't want to hurt his son, but he cannot show the hesitation.
"This fierce man longs to lift you, curb your sadness with piggy-back or bull fight, anything, but dare not ruin the lessons you should learn."
The poet uses contrast again here, juxtaposing the description of this man as 'fierce' with the description of this man as a vulnerable, loving, empathetic one who wants to curb the boy's sadness. The father sees his son crying, and his natural reaction is to want to comfort him- but he cannot, in order to ensure that he learns the lesson.
"You must not make a plaything of the rain."
This final line conveys what was likely the reason for the father punishing the child, he was playing in the rain.