Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 483
In “The Stricken Children,” the persona governing the poem—many attribute it as Levertov herself—recalls her return to a wishing well of her childhood. During that time, the well was a clear bubbling spring less than three feet across, with a bank of rocks protecting it from falling leaves. It was...
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In “The Stricken Children,” the persona governing the poem—many attribute it as Levertov herself—recalls her return to a wishing well of her childhood. During that time, the well was a clear bubbling spring less than three feet across, with a bank of rocks protecting it from falling leaves. It was a tiny personal place which the speaking persona recalls as likely holding within it the wishes of many others from the past. People who came here did not throw money but, rather, searched themselves for the right small wish to throw into the well in the form of a pebble or rock. The immediate juxtaposition here is that visitors did not throw money, as wishes are not meant to be bought but rather hoped for with deepest interest and concern. This well was the place where, year after year, she returned to launch her journeys into the imagination. Like the spring, her childhood imagination could roam uncluttered, and the experiences she encountered nourished her.
When she returns as an adult, however, the wishing well has changed. She had hoped it would be familiar, merely older. Instead, it was marred, unfamiliar and sickly. The naïve beauty and appreciation she had for it in the past has been tarnished by a modern society who had filled it with its consumer excess, which she views, quite literally, as pollution. She wonders if the spring, so clogged, still flows, and if it was children who deposited the trash. If so, she muses, how damaged are these children by such consumerism? From the persona’s perspective, could children who would exact such violence on Nature actually dream; would they understand real desire? Were they raised by people who could instill virtue and imagination within them?
She leaves quickly, for the urgency of her own dreams pushes her onward. She continues to wonder, however, about the children of today, these stricken children who cannot find a source of nourishment for their dreams anywhere in a disposable culture of throwaways. The past, the generative wellspring that gave her the stability to dream and to act on dreams, has been, like the well, choked up. From the persona’s perspective, modern culture has strangled the imagination of these children at exactly the time of life when they most need to develop it.
It is possible that the personal awareness of what her own childhood offered in nourishing her life leads Levertov to reexamine the concept of childhood itself, here in the light of the cultural and political climate that could produce stricken children. In the poem’s view, the world is violent, and this violence enters every life soon after birth. The child does not have time to develop an imagination or a sense of wonder. Levertov’s poem re-creates that wonder at the same time that it warns against the political and social consequences of careless actions.