Lawrence learned first hand of the joys and frustrations of teaching in a school for boys. These two poems capture the best and worst of teaching—the trill of watching the light bulbs go off and the frustration of the questioned pursuit. I saw a good deal of both the joy and frustration in my school visits this spring and thought of Lawrence.
The Best of School
The blinds are drawn because of the sun,
And the boys and the room in colourless gloom
Of underwater float: bright ripples run
Across the walls as the blinds are blown
To let the sunlight in; and I,
As I sit on the shores of the class, alone,
Watch the boys in the summer blouses
As they write, their round heads busily bowed:
And one after another rouses
His face to look at me,
To ponder very quietly,
As seeing, he does not see.
And then he turns again, with a little, glad
Thrill of his work he turns again from me,
Having found what he wanted, having got what was to be had.
And very sweet it is, while the sunlight waves
In the ripening morning, to sit alone with the class
And feel the stream of awakening ripple and pass
From me to the boys, whose brightening souls it laves
For this little hour.
This morning, sweet it is
To feel the lads’ looks light on me,
Then back in a swift, bright flutter to work;
Each one darting away with his
Discovery, like birds that steal and flee.
Touch after touch I feel on me
As their eyes glance at me for the grain
Of rigour they taste delightedly.
As tendrils reach out yearningly,
Slowly rotate till they touch the tree
That they cleave unto, and up which they climb
Up to their lives—so they to me.
I feel them cling and cleave to me
As vines going eagerly up; they twine
My life with other leaves, my time
Is hidden in theirs, their thrills are mine.
Last Lesson of the Afternoon
When will the bell ring, and end this weariness?
How long have they tugged the leash, and strained apart,
My pack of unruly hounds! I cannot start
Them again on a quarry of knowledge they hate to hunt,
I can haul them and urge them no more.
No longer now can I endure the brunt
Of the books that lie out on the desks; a full threescore
Of several insults of blotted pages, and scrawl
Of slovenly work that they have offered me.
I am sick, and what on earth is the good of it all?
What good to them or me, I cannot see!
So, shall I take
My last dear fuel of life to heap on my soul
And kindle my will to a flame that shall consume
Their dross of indifference; and take the toll
Of their insults in punishments?—I will not!—
I will not waste my soul and my strength for this.
What do I care for all that they do amiss!
What is the point of this teaching of ine, and of this
Learning of theirs? It all goes down the same abyss.
What does it matter to me, if they can write
A description of a dog, or if they can’t?
What is the point? To us both, it is all my aunt!
And yet I’m supposed to care, with all my might.
I do not, and will not; they won’t and they don’t;
and that’s all!
I shall keep my strength for myself; they can keep
theirs as well.
Why should we beat our heads against the wall
Of each other? I shall sit and wait for the bell.