To best understand the symbolism of "The Children of the Poor" by Gwendolyn Brooks, it is important to understand the overall theme of the poem and of each stanza. This poem’s speaker reflects upon the horror and aftermath of World War II from a maternal point-of-view, especially as it relates to the mothers and children who were left impoverished, widowed, or abandoned. Much of the symbolism relates to an aspect of the specific pain and duty of motherhood.
For example, in the first stanza, the speaker compares the circumstances, philosophies, and psychological mindsets of people without children and people with children during this time period. The speaker suggests that it is generally easier for people without children to close themselves off, to fight, to run, to observe the events of the world with an element of detachment, to achieve spiritual peace, and to leave without pain.
Rather than state this stanza’s claims outright, Brooks uses symbolism to energize, saturate, and bolster the speaker’s argument with rich sensory detail. She states people without children can have a “mail of ice and insolence”, which is basically a metaphorical metal armor made of coldness and rudeness, or at least impertinence, that comes from being carefree. People with children, however, can “hear the little lifting helplessness” of their children “through a throttling dark”. This half of the stanza likely symbolizes a mother’s ability to be impacted by the softness and vulnerability of her children, and to still feel a sense of love despite the danger and bleakness of the war-torn world.