The poet’s parents sought to protect him from the street children. They were rude in speech and were dressed in rags. They were uninhibited and stripped off their clothes and swam in the country rivers.
The speaker feared the brute strength of the boys. They were muscular and did not hesitate to use their arms and legs. The poet was also scared of their mocking ways. They laughed behind his back, imitating his lisp.
The boys were like vandals; they threw mud at people and pounced on them. But despite all this, the speaker was forgiving. He wanted to be friendly and smiled at them. But they did not reciprocate the friendly overtures.
This poem could be a personal or biographical depiction of Spender's early life suffering the disability of a club foot and a speech impediment.
The use of the first person, stark contrasts, and ambiguity give us a vivid picture of a child troubled by a superiority/inferiority complex.
While his parents are condescending towards the rough coarse children, the child appears envious of their carefree liberty, their unbridled animal prowess and uninhibited playfulness, yet resentful of their bullying behaviour to him.
We can visualise the persona through contrast. He is everything that they are not; softly spoken (words like stones), well dressed (torn clothes, rags), passive (they ran and climbed), inhibited - modesty (they stripped by country streams), weak (muscles of iron), well mannered (salt coarse pointing) lisp (parodied by copying), clumsy (lithe), and friendly ( hostile- they never smiled).
His attempts at conciliation and acceptance are rebuffed but he appears to blame his parents for psychologically damaging him by over protection or shielding him from a natural childhood. While their superior attitude (snobbery?) has excluded him from mainstream society he ambivalently identifies with his parents by having the boys spring “like dogs to bark at our world”.