“Children in Exile” is written in forty-nine stanzas of four lines each, an extra line space being inserted in the last stanza. The poem begins with a direct quote from a child in exile, who states one of the keynotes of the poem, that what one is is less important than what one does. Readers then are made aware of the general subject of the poem—that it involves children from Cambodia in exile in a strange country (readers later learn that this is Italy) in roughly the late 1970’s. Though still children, the exiles “have learnt much.” Far from being innocents, they have experienced ordeals that most of the adults who take care of them cannot even begin to imagine. They have escaped from the mass killings perpetrated by the Cambodian regime of Pol Pot, in power from 1975 to 1979, which was preceded by a civil war (in which the United States intervened) in which many were also killed and wounded. The children have physically escaped from their ordeal, but psychologically they are still wounded, and their dreams are troubled.
The “I” of the poem, a friendly Western adult observer, sees that the children are still in pain from their experiences. He muses on the tragic situation; these children were punished not for their own actions but because they happened to be children of people who were political opponents of the regime or who were otherwise persecuted. The children also, in a way, symbolize the entire Cambodian nation, which was so rent...
(The entire section is 500 words.)