Little Boy Crying by Mervyn Morris

Little Boy Crying by Mervyn Morris

“Little Boy Crying” by Mervyn Morris is a poignant and emotionally charged poem that explores the complex dynamics of parent-child relationships. Morris, a Jamaican poet and professor, delves into the theme of discipline, the impact of authority on a child, and the enduring love that exists within the framework of parental correction. First published in 1966 in his collection “The Pond,” “Little Boy Crying” is widely celebrated for its exploration of human emotions, the nuances of familial connections, and the transformative power of understanding.

The poem opens with a vivid image of a father reprimanding his son, setting the stage for the emotional tension that will unfold. The lines “Your mouth contorting in brief spite and hurt, your laughter metamorphosed into howls” immediately draw the reader into the intensity of the moment. Morris skillfully captures the physical and emotional transformation of the child, portraying the immediate and powerful impact of the father’s disapproval.

The second stanza provides a glimpse into the father’s perspective, revealing the motivation behind the discipline. The lines “Such fierce indignation in your face, the shaking anger of your small shoulders” convey the father’s emotional response to what he perceives as disobedience. The use of the word “indignation” suggests a mix of anger and resentment, emphasizing the father’s commitment to instilling discipline despite the evident distress of his son.

As the poem unfolds, Morris explores the aftermath of the discipline, highlighting the emotional aftermath for both parent and child. The lines “Such grief, as drags the heart down in a runt you stand, vexed; taller than before” capture the conflicting emotions experienced by the child. The word “grief” suggests a deep sense of sorrow, while the description of the child as “vexed” indicates a lingering sense of frustration. Despite the emotional turmoil, there is a paradoxical growth implied in the phrase “taller than before.” This growth may not be physical but rather a metaphor for emotional and psychological resilience, as the child begins to understand the complexities of the adult world.

The fourth stanza introduces a shift in perspective as Morris explores the impact of the disciplinary moment on the father. The lines “But still the tiger in my roar is plain to me, plainly I see” reveal the father’s recognition of the ferocity in his own reaction. The metaphor of the “tiger” underscores the primal and fierce nature of the father’s response, suggesting that beneath the veneer of authority, there is an acknowledgment of the intensity of his actions.

The poem then delves into the emotional aftermath for both father and son. The lines “What hurts is that my father could betray so deep a love, betray and sting” convey the son’s realization of the complexity of parental love. The word “betray” introduces a sense of emotional betrayal, challenging the traditional narrative of discipline as an expression of care. The act of betrayal is twofold: the father’s betrayal of the child through discipline and the child’s understanding that discipline, though well-intentioned, can be a form of betrayal. The word “sting” adds a physical and emotional dimension to the impact of discipline, emphasizing the lasting impression it leaves.

As the poem reaches its conclusion, Morris introduces a moment of reflection and understanding. The lines “I see the pain was not only for me, that I was not its only victim” suggest a broader perspective on the part of the child. This realization marks a turning point in the poem, as the child begins to empathize with the father’s experience. The acknowledgment that he was “not its only victim” introduces a sense of shared vulnerability, bridging the gap between parent and child.

The final stanza brings the poem full circle, returning to the present moment where the child, now grown, recalls the lessons learned from the father’s discipline. The lines “But I feel cold and naked, like a chicken plucked alive, ready for the knife” convey the vulnerability and exposure that come with self-awareness. The metaphor of a “chicken plucked alive” suggests a raw and unguarded state, emphasizing the emotional nakedness experienced by the grown child. The reference to being “ready for the knife” introduces a sense of acceptance, as the lessons learned from the father’s discipline have prepared the child for the inevitable challenges of life.

“Little Boy Crying” is a masterfully crafted poem that delves into the intricate layers of parent-child relationships. Mervyn Morris navigates the complexities of discipline, love, and understanding with a keen sensitivity to the emotional landscape of both parent and child. The poem invites readers to reflect on the transformative power of discipline, the enduring love that underlies it, and the profound impact it can have on the emotional growth of a child.

As we celebrate the enduring significance of Mervyn Morris’s work, “Little Boy Crying” remains a timeless exploration of universal themes, resonating with readers across cultural and generational boundaries. Through its evocative language, vivid imagery, and nuanced portrayal of human emotions, the poem continues to captivate and provoke thought, inviting readers to contemplate the intricate dance of love and discipline within the framework of familial relationships.

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