lawrenceD.H. Lawrence learned first hand of the joys and frustrations of teaching in a school for boys. His poem The Best of School captures the thrill of watching puzzled looks turn into the satisfaction of learning. Lawrence reflects, “their thrills are mine.”

The next poem in the collection, Last Lesson of the Afternoon, captures the frustrations of a questioned pursuit, “Why should we beat our heads against the wall/Of each other?  I shall sit and wait for the bell.”

The bookend poems capture the breadth of teaching.  I’m glad he wrote the second poem to acknowledge the challenge, but The Best of School  is my favorite description of the subtle satisfaction of watching light bulbs go off.

 

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.

 

D.H. Lawrence

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