The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Childhood” is a poem of thirty-three lines divided into four stanzas. The title would generally lead the reader to expect a poem describing a time of innocence and joy, and while “Childhood” does this to some extent, it also describes a contrasting sad side to childhood. The poem is written in the third person, which often serves to distance the poet from the speakers or perspectives in the poem. However, in “Childhood” the unnamed, pale child and his feelings of loneliness, isolation, and sadness resemble Rilke’s remembrance of his own childhood quite closely.

“Childhood” begins with a short description of school; it is shown in an entirely negative light. The atmosphere is stuffy, the hours spent there are long and boring, and the feelings the child experiences are of anxiety and loneliness. The relief and joy of dismissal contrasts sharply with the “heavy lumpish time” in school. The streets ring out with children’s voices, the town squares are full of bubbling fountains, and the outdoor world has endless space and possibilities. At the end of the first stanza a small child is introduced as different from all the others. Though he shares in the exultant feeling of release from school, he walks a different path, alone and lonely.

The second stanza shows the wider world from the child’s perspective, one both distanced and perceptive. He watches men and women, children in brightly colored clothes, houses, here and...

(The entire section is 430 words.)