In the opening two lines of the poem, the speaker describes his son, who is "little," has "thoughtful eyes," and speaks "in quiet grown-up wise." In the third and fourth lines, the speaker says that he "struck" his son because his son "disobey'd" him for "the seventh time." At the end of line four, the speaker indicates that he also "dismiss'd / With hard words" the boy's mother, who, he says (in line six) is "patient" because she is "dead." Given that the boy's mother is dead, the word "dismiss'd" here likely means that the speaker disparaged her, rather than literally dismissed or ejected her from the house.
In lines seven to eleven, the speaker, feeling remorseful, goes to his son's bedroom. He describes his son sleeping, "With darken'd eyelids" and with lashes "sobbing wet." In lines twelve and thirteen, the speaker says that, at his son's bedside, he "moan(ed)," cried with remorse, and kissed his son. At this point in the poem, the implication is that the father's wife has recently died and that he was taking out his grief on the son when he hit him. The father's remorse, manifest in his tears, indicates that he appreciates the unfairness of his actions.
In lines fourteen to twenty-one, the speaker describes the objects on the table next to the son's head. The son has placed these objects here in order to "comfort his sad heart." The objects include a "box of counters and a red-vein'd stone ... six or seven shells ... (and) A bottle with bluebells." These objects perhaps represent the son's memories of his mother.
In lines twenty-two and twenty-three, the speaker says that, later that night, he prayed to God. In lines twenty-four and twenty-five, he imagines a time when he and his son will both be dead, and in the remaining lines of the poem he imagines what God will think of them when they are dead. In lines twenty-six and twenty-seven, the speaker imagines that God will remember the "toys," such as those arranged on the boy's table, that his son and he treasured and which symbolized their "joys." In lines twenty-eight and twenty-nine, the speaker imagines that God will deduce, from these toys, how poorly the father and the son have understood his commands, or his "great commanded good."
In the final four lines of the poem, lines thirty to thirty-three, the speaker imagines that God will pity him and his son. He imagines, in line thirty, that God's pity will be a "fatherly" pity, much like the pity that the speaker felt for his son earlier in the poem. In line thirty-two, the speaker imagines that God's pity will overwhelm any anger, or "wrath" that he might have felt upon the father and son not understanding his "great commanded good." The result of this pity is God's expression, in the final line of the poem, that he will, after their deaths, "be sorry for their childishness."