D.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.