Coventry Patmore's The Toys Comprehension Tasks

The Toys

Introduction

After quarrelling with his disobedient son and sending him to bed “with hard words and unkiss’d”, the speaker in Coventry Patmore’s “The Toys” discovers the “thoughtful” young boy has tried to “comfort his sad heart” with his collection of little trinkets and cried himself to sleep. Regretting the harshness of the punishment, the father cries tears of his own when he realises that he failed to show the same mercy and forgiveness taught in the Bible.

In this way, Patmore’s poem teaches the reader the value of patience and understanding, especially in difficult and challenging times.

The Toys

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.
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.
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.
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,
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.”

Sequencing the Story

The following bullet points outline the poem’s story but they are out of sequence. Your task is to put them into the correct order.

  • The father noticed his son’s eyes were wet with tears.
  • The father sees the toys his son used to comfort himself.
  • The father dismissed his son and sent him to bed.
  • The son disobeyed his father seven times.
  • The father prays to God, asking for forgiveness because he realises he should have been more patient with his son. Beginning to regret the terrible way he treated his son, the father cries tears of his own.
  • The father visited his son in his bedroom and found him asleep.
  • The father struck his son.
  • The father became worried that his son would be unable to sleep.

Comprehension Questions

  1. How does the speaker create sympathy for his “little” son? In your answer, you should also consider the description of his “thoughtful eyes” and the way he “spoke in quiet grown-up wise” voice.
  2. Using quotations from the poem, explain why the father “struck” his son.
  3. Suggest why the speaker mentions the death of his “patient” wife.
  4. In your own words, describe why the speaker decided to visit his son in bed.
  5. How does the father react when he realises his son had cried himself to sleep?
  6. How did the son try to “comfort his sad heart”?
  7. Look at the list of toys the boy has organised on the table beside his bed. This is a difficult question, but can you guess what each of them might reveal about the boy’s life?
  8. Imagine you are the father in this poem. How might you feel when you see your young son asleep in bed with his toys placed carefully on the table?
  9. The father compares his harsh punishment of his son to the mercy and forgiveness he hopes God will show him at his death. In your own words, try to summarise his thoughts and feelings in his prayer to God.

Drama Task

Coventry Patmore’s “The Toys” is quite an emotional and dramatic story about the conflict between a father and his son. Try rewriting the poem as a script, beginning with dialogue which leads to their argument and then ending with the father’s monologue to God.

The Sequence Task Answer

  • The son disobeyed his father seven times.
  • The father struck his son.
  • The father dismissed his son and sent him to bed.
  • The father became worried that his son would be unable to sleep.
  • The father visited his son in his bedroom and found him asleep.
  • The father noticed his son’s eyes were wet with tears.
  • Beginning to regret the terrible way he treated his son, the father cries tears of his own.
  • The father sees the toys his son used to comfort himself.
  • The father prays to God, asking for forgiveness because he realises he should have been more patient with his son.

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