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This is an excerpt from a poem by Stephen Spender:

The stunted, unlucky heir of twisted bones, reciting a father's gnarled disease, his lesson, from his desk.

I want to ask what he (the stunted boy) was reciting. All the online sources that I have checked that tho boy was reciting just his lesson. But I think what poet meant is that the boy is showing in front of the class that he has inherited gnarled disease from his father which is lesson of his lifetime. That's why he has used "a father's gnarled disease" before his lesson. Am I right in my interpretation?

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    I'm not even sure that he's literally reciting anything. I take it to mean that he is living (and thereby expressing) the disease he has inherited. This is the problem with trying to interpret poetry: there is no right answer. – Colin Fine Sep 8 '19 at 11:30
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Syntactically speaking, his lesson is parenthetical, or nonrestrictive, information. Analyzing the sentence, it would be possible to drop it:

a father's gnarled disease, his lesson, from his desk

So, while it may be understood that he is reciting his lesson, what the sentence is saying at its core is that he is reciting the gnarled disease. While they are referring to the same thing, its the disease itself that has the primary meaning in the sentence.


In this case, reciting is being used figuratively. Or, at the very least, the recitation is not in the traditional verbal sense but in a physical sense.

In other words, he speaks the disease on the frame of his body—in the same way that we normally speak words, or thoughts, with our mouths.


That was just a syntactical analysis. It doesn't mean that's how people necessarily interpret it. Some interpretations don't follow from literal syntax.

For the literal syntax to match the interpretation suggested by those online sources, it could be rephrased in the following way:

He had a disease. His disease was his lesson. He recited his lesson from his desk.

It's still figurative (and that part of what I said still applies), but it no longer makes use of anything parenthetical.

However, it also completely changes the style and mood of the writing.

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  • So, while it is plausible that the boy may be reciting a lesson from a book or sth, what he is basically doing is showing the class the gnarled disease that he inherited. Is it what you're saying? – kelvin Sep 8 '19 at 13:56
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    Yes, that's what I'm saying he's doing. But I don't think it's plausible that the sentence could be taken to be talking about reading from an actual book. Not only is that part of it nonrestrictive, but it's clear (at least to me) that lesson and recite are not meant to be taken literally. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Sep 8 '19 at 13:59

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