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The Toys by Coventry Patmore

“The Toys” is written by one of the best-known Victorian poets, Coventry Patmore. This poem centers on a story of a father and son. Patmore shares a personal incident that happened between him and his son. He describes how one day he rebuked his son for disobeying him for the seventh time. It made his son extremely sad. Later, the poet realized his mistake and felt guilty for hurting him. It made him think of how God would judge humankind for their attraction to the mundane “toys”. Through the reference of this incident, Patmore delves into worldliness and a sense of guilt in human beings.

  • Read the full text of “The Toys” here along with the analysis section.
Summary and Analysis of The Toys by Coventry Patmore


Summary

“The Toys” begins with a reference to an incident that happened with a speaker or the poet. Patmore’s poetic persona describes how one day he rebuked his son for disobeying his orders. He struck him with unkind words and refused to give him a goodnight kiss. The boy’s mother, being dead, could not comfort him when he went to bed with a heavy heart. Later, the speaker went to his room and discovered the toys of the boy kept close to his bed. These toys included a variety of objects that his son collected. He treasured them and took solace in times of need.

On the same night when the speaker went to bed, the toys reminded him of mundane things such as wealth, earthly success, and fame. Humans do chase after these things without heeding the ultimate truth. According to the speaker, God might not be angry with their ignorance. Rather, he would forgive their “childishness”.

Structure & Form

“The Toys” consists of a total of 33 lines, grouped into a single stanza. Patmore shifts from one idea to the other by using end-stopped lines. He uses both the alternative rhyme scheme and the rhyming couplet form. The first two lines of each section begin with a rhyming couplet. For example, in the beginning, “eyes” rhyme with “wise”. In the following four lines, the rhyme scheme is ABBA. Each section similarly ends with two rhyming lines. Besides, there is not any set syllable count per line. That’s why the text does not have a set meter. Patmore mostly uses iambic feet for metrically structuring the lines.

My lit/-tle Son,/ who look’d/ from thought/-ful eyes

And moved/ and spoke/ in quiet/ grown-up wise,

Hav-ing/ my law/ the se/-venth time/ dis-obey’d,

I struck/ him, and/ dis-miss’d

With hard/ words and/ un-kiss’d,

His Mo/-ther, who/ was pa/-tient, be/-ing dead.

In this excerpt:

  • The first, third, and last lines are in iambic pentameter.
  • The second line is in iambic tetrameter.
  • The fourth and fifth lines are in iambic trimeter.


Poetic Devices & Figures of Speech

Patmore makes use of the following poetic devices in “The Toys”.

  • Metaphor: In this poem, the “toys” is an important metaphor. On the first hand, it hints at the toys of the boy. At the same time, it refers to the earthly joys human beings are attracted to. Besides, this device is also used in the lines “I struck him, and dismiss’d/ With hard words and unkiss’d”. Here, Patmore compares hard words to an object that is used to beat someone.
  • Synecdoche: It occurs in the expression “thoughtful eyes”. Here, the poet refers to the boy as being thoughtful and wise.
  • Anaphora: This device is used in the following lines: “A box of counters and a red-vein’d stone,/ A piece of glass abraded by the beach”.
  • Polysyndeton: It occurs in “And moved and spoke in quiet grown-up wise”. Here, “and” is repeated for the sake of emphasis.
  • Personification: It is used in “red-vein’d stone” and “sad heart”. Patmore describes the stone with human attributes. In the second expression, he invests the heart with the emotion of sadness. Besides, this expression also contains synecdoche.
  • Insinuation: In “Ah, when at last we lie with tranced breath”, the poet insinuates about death.
  • Irony: The last line “I will be sorry for their childishness” contains situational irony. Patmore’s speaker could not forgive his child’s mistake but he was thinking the opposite of what he had done.
  • Enjambment: Patmore uses this device throughout the poem to internally connect the lines. It makes readers go through the lines at a go in order to grasp the overall idea. For example, it occurs in the first six lines.


Themes

Patmore’s “The Toys” taps on several themes. The most important themes of this piece are the father-son relationship and worldliness. It also explores the themes of childishness, commiseration, craving, the benevolence of God, and forgiveness. In this poem, Patmore shares an incident that happened with him. One day, he rebuked his son for not listening to him a couple of times. He became sad and wept alone. After discovering his child in grief, he realized that he had reacted harshly. While he prayed to God on that night, he implicitly atoned for his fault. He became thoughtful of the fact that he was also attracted to the earthly joys. Hence, he wished God to forgive their childishness just like he forgave his son.

Line-by-Line Critical Analysis & Explanation

Lines 1-6

My little Son, who look’d from thoughtful eyes

And moved and spoke in quiet grown-up wise,

Having my law the seventh time disobey’d,

I struck him, and dismiss’d

With hard words and unkiss’d,

His Mother, who was patient, being dead.

Coventry Patmore’s poem “The Toys” begins with a reference to his son. Patmore capitalizes the first letter of “Son” for the sake of emphasis. The child looked at his father with thoughtful eyes. He moved and spoke quietly. Listening to him, it appeared to the speaker that he had grown up and became wise. From the phrase “grown-up wise”, it becomes clear that the speaker was angry with his son.

The following line describes why he was angry. His son disobeyed him for the seventh time. He thought the boy might have become wise to not follow his orders. So, he rebuked him and refused to give him a kiss before he went to sleep. Patmore uses the term “struck” in order to reflect the impact of his words and his rudeness on his son’s mind. He did not beat him but his words had struck his heart. Besides, his mother was no more. So, there was none to comfort him except his father.

Lines 7-11

Then, fearing lest his grief should hinder sleep,

I visited his bed,

But found him slumbering deep,

With darken’d eyelids, and their lashes yet

From his late sobbing wet.

The speaker, being aware of the fact, feared that his son could not sleep because of the pain he inflicted on his heart. So, he went to his room and found that he was already asleep. He was slumbering deep for his mental weariness after being rudely treated by his father. His eyes had become dark from sobbing and his eyelashes were still wet. This image of his son evoked a sense of guilt in his heart. Besides, Patmore makes use of organic imagery in order to convey the internal feelings of the father and son.

Lines 12-21

And I, with moan,

Kissing away his tears, left others of my own;

For, on a table drawn beside his head,

He had put, within his reach,

A box of counters and a red-vein’d stone,

A piece of glass abraded by the beach

And six or seven shells,

A bottle with bluebells

And two French copper coins, ranged there with careful art,

To comfort his sad heart.

The darkened eyelids of the boy made the father so sad that he could not help but cry and moan. He kissed on his wet cheek and left his own on his face. In this way, the poet describes the soft side of the father’s heart. He indeed reacted cruelly yet he commiserated with his son. The realization of his mistake made him return the kiss which he refused to give.

In the following lines, readers find a number of toys that the boy treasured. There was a table near his head. He had put several objects that he collected on the table. There was a box of counters, a red-vein’d stone, a piece of abraded glass, some shells, a bottle with bluebell flowers, and two French copper coins.

Everything was arranged carefully. It showed how valuable the toys were to the boy. These things were not extremely rare or precious. But for the boy, they had immense value. He had given several hours to find these items.

Whenever he was sad, he sought solace in his toys. That’s why, when he went to bed on that night, he kept them close. He knew others might cause pain to his heart but these things would never do that.

In these lines, Patmore describes how children take pleasure in simple things that adults would find meaningless. When they were kids, they did the same. As grown-ups, they forgot how to cherish the simplicity and how to be content with less. Hence, they cannot even understand what is less valuable for them, is precious for children.

Lines 22-27

So when that night I pray’d

To God, I wept, and said:

Ah, when at last we lie with tranced breath,

Not vexing Thee in death,

And Thou rememberest of what toys

We made our joys,

In the last section of “The Toys”, Patmore describes the impression of the incident on his mind. On that night, he returned from his son’s room. He wept for his mistake and prayed to God for forgiveness. This incident made him so moved that he thought of dying from the pain. The poet insinuates the fact in the line “when at last we lie with tranced breath”. When one person is in a half-conscious state without having the ability to move or react, he is in the state of trance. It occurs at the time of death.

The poetic persona did not wish to vex or complain to God in death. God, being aware of the acts of his children, knows what “toys” made their “joys”. Here, the term “toys” is used to metaphorically hint at the materialism of mankind. Fame, money, and earthly success become the “toys” of adults. As long as they have these things they remain happy. By referring to the child’s toys and the toys of adults, Patmore presents the theme of innocence vs worldliness.

Lines 28-33

How weakly understood

Thy great commanded good,

Then, fatherly not less

Than I whom Thou hast moulded from the clay,

Thou’lt leave Thy wrath, and say,

“I will be sorry for their childishness.”

Whatsoever, the speaker describes his ignorance in emotive terms. According to him, he weakly understood God’s commands. He disobeyed his commandments throughout his life for not realizing their importance. God’s words are for the collective good of humankind. But, very few of them are able to understand it.

He became aware of his mistake after the incident. So, he said that God is the father of humankind just like him. But, God is greater than him. He was the one who molded him from the clay and provided him spiritual nourishment to grow both inwardly and outwardly. Yet, he preferred the outward growth more than the internal one.

Like the speaker was angry with his son, he thinks God might be the same with him as well as others. So, he wished that he would not be angry with him. He would be sorry for the childishness of humankind. The last line of the poem contains an allusion to a biblical passage.

Historical Context

“The Toys” was written in the 19th century by the Victorian poet Coventry Patmore. He was one of the least-known poets from the Victorian period. After the death of his first wife, the grief of loss became an important theme of his work. In this poem, Patmore also uses this theme in the line “His mother, who was patient, being dead.” Here, the poet alludes to the death of his wife. Besides, he describes one incident that injects pathos into his heart. His child’s sadness made him realize the fact that he had also committed mistakes by not obeying his divine father, God. He wished that God might forgive the childishness of humankind.

Questions & Answers

What is the significance of the toys in the poem?

In this poem, the toys act as a metaphor. Firstly, it refers to the simple things that make a child happy. Then, the poet uses it as a metaphor of worldly “toys” that adults take pleasure in. By this reference, he contrasts the innocence of children with the worldliness of adults. In this way, the “toys” become an important element that helps readers to know the difference between spiritual need and mental greed.

Do you justify the father’s action in the poem “The Toys”? Why?

To judge another person’s fault, even after being aware of the fact we also do make mistakes, is nothing but a way to show hypocrisy. In this poem, the father’s action can be justifiable on three terms. Firstly, he was kind to the child when he made mistakes. Secondly, it is a father’s duty to guide his child. Thirdly, he was there to console his son. Even though he had to rebuke his son for his attitude, he realized that he was too harsh with him. This realization justifies the fact that he did the right thing.

What is the substance of the poem “The Toys”?

This poem describes an incident that happened with the poet. One day, he rebuked his son for disobeying him. His sad son’s face brought about pathos in him. It reminded him of the faults humans commit by not listening to God’s commandments.

What was the child’s mistake in the poem “The Toys”?

The child disobeyed his father. It seems his father had some issues regarding the toys he collected. He might have warned him not to waste his time in finding such meaningless items.

What message does Coventry Patmore give us in the poem “The Toys”?

Through this poem, Patmore advises grown-up readers to focus on the things God, the father of all, told them to do. He commanded men to follow his path for their good. Besides, this piece also conveys the message of being kind to children and forgiving their silly mistakes.

What incident did the poet describe in the poem “The Toys”?

In this poem, Patmore describes how one day he rebuked his son for disobeying his words. The child’s grief caused pain to his heart. It reminded him of his own fault of being disobedient to God’s words.

What religious lesson did the poet draw from the incident in “The Toys”?

After the incident, the poet realized the mistakes human beings including him commit as adults by not heeding the advice of God. They chase after the worldly “toys” without caring much about the spiritual lessons taught by the almighty. However, in the end, he wished God to forgive his flaws just as he did with his son.

What religious ideas does the poem “The Toys” convey to its reader?

This poem conveys the spiritual ideas of mercy, forgiveness, and benevolence to the readers.

How did the little child get himself consoled?

The child kept his toys within his reach in order to console himself.

What is the poet’s character in “The Toys”?

In this poem, the poet’s character is that of the father.

How many times does the son disobey the father in the poem “The Toys”?

The son disobeyed his father seven times.

Why did the speaker punish his son?

The speaker punished his son as he disobeyed him seven times in a row. Even though his father warned him before, he made the same mistake. Even after disobeying him, he spoke to his father in a wise and thoughtful tone. It made the speaker angry so he punished him.

How did the poem “The Toys” portray the father’s love?

Patmore portrays fatherly love in “And I, with moan,/ Kissing away his tears, left others of my own”. Through these lines, the poet describes how much the father cared for his son.


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