5

I was reading one of the master-pieces by Stephen Spender, "An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum".

Following are the starting lines of the second of four octaves:

Our sour cream walls, donations. Shakespeare's head,
Cloudless at dawn, civilized dome riding all cities.
Belled, flowery Tyrolese valley. Open-handed map ......

What is the meaning of Cloudless at dawn? And I can't get what sense it makes after Shakespeare's portrait: I could see no relationship between the two.

My thoughts..

'Cloudless dawn' and 'civilized dome' might highlight monotonous and dull life in urban slum. The elementary school is squeezed and suppressed under so called concrete structures of the cities, that the children are unaware of the beauty of sky at the dawn.

But according to what I think, it's in a way satire to urban civilisation too, but the whole poem is an altruistic act for welfare of slum children (later, the author appeals to the powers to liberate these children from horrendous and gory slums). So my point doesn't seem veracious.

2

It's flowery description of Shakespeare's head.

For those unfamiliar with his work, the most famous image of Shakespeare is of a bald man with facial hair. Since most men of his era cultivated moustache and beard, it's the baldness that stands out.

enter image description here

Our sour cream walls, donations.

The pictures and posters on the pale walls of the classroom are donated: the school cannot afford to provide them.

Shakespeare's head,

Among them is an image of Shakespeare, resplendent in his baldness.

Cloudless at dawn,

Dawn: this is an image of the sun. Shakespeare's bald head is shining, like a weak sun in the morning. Of course, it's cloudless because it's not really the sun at all, but a head. "Cloudless" simply fits the image better.

civilized dome riding all cities.

A "dome" is a common description of a bald head. From the Cambridge Dictionary:

a shape like one-half of a ball: Gerald had a long grey beard and a shiny bald dome (= head).

It is civilized not only because Shakespeare was a well-mannered gentleman, unlike the poor unfortunates in the school. But also because Shakespeare's work, and the learning required to comprehend it is seen as a civilizing influence across the country. Hence it "rides" all cities.

Belled, flowery Tyrolese valley. Open-handed map

These are additional classroom decorations. A photograph of an alpine valley, such as you might see in a travel brochure and also a map.

It is worth noting that by focussing on the image of Shakespeare, instead of his work, the poet is emphasising how it is likely only the picture the pupils are familiar with. It's all they know of his work and fame.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    Only bald at the front (aka high forehead), right? Or is that a wig on the back of his head? – Rand al'Thor Jan 10 at 15:10
  • @Randal'Thor No, you're quite right - it's a receding hairline. But, just as the poet knows, he's still always percieved as bald :) – Matt Thrower Jan 10 at 15:45
  • 1
    I could've never imagined this way. It was too good! Ty – Zenix Jan 10 at 15:46
  • 1
    ‘Cloudless’ also alluding to the absence of ‘clouds’ of hair? – Spagirl Jan 11 at 22:22
  • @Spagirl I did wonder about that, but then I looked at the image and his head does in fact have hair around the big bald spot - so I wasn't sure if it fitted or not. – Matt Thrower Jan 13 at 8:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.