Study Guide

The Whipping Stanza 1

By Robert Hayden

Stanza 1

Lines 1-4

The old woman across the way
is whipping the boy again
and shouting to the neighborhood
her goodness and his wrongs.

  • Somebody is watching something. It is an old woman "across the way," which is like saying "across the street," or "in the apartment building over there."
  • This woman is whipping some boy—again—and shouting so the whole neighborhood can hear.
  • And what's she shouting about? She's shouting about how great she is and how horrible he is. 
  • So far, though, we don't know anything yet about the relationship between the woman and the boy. He could be her son, but he could also be some neighbor kid who she's mad at for stealing cookies from her kitchen. She could be the housekeeper or the boy's babysitter or… any number of other things.
  • Either way, it sounds like the boy has gotten in trouble yet again, and is being punished by an angry, violent woman. 
  • Before we go forward, let's talk a little bit about some of the formal features of this poem.
  • At this point, there is no obvious rhyme scheme (none of the lines rhyme) and no clear meter, which means this poem is written in free verse (so far). We'll have more to say about this over in "Form and Meter."
  • For now, let's see if we can figure what this angry woman is so mad about, or at least why she thinks she needs to whip this poor little guy.

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