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D. H. Lawrence's "Best of School"

Updated on October 9, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

D. H. Lawrence

Source

Reading of "Last Lesson"

Commentary

D. H. Lawrence's "Best of School" contrasts somewhat with his poem, "Last Lesson of the Afternoon."

While the speaker in the " Last Lesson of the Afternoon" is tired of teaching and disturbed by just being in the classroom, this speaker/teacher in "Best of School" enjoys a fresh look at his job, and although he may again despise his lot by afternoon, the morning inspires him to find something about teaching that he can praise.

D. H. Lawrence was a better novelist than poet, so readers will note that his poetry is often redundant and vague. The poem, "Best of School," features seven stanzas again with a scattered, inconsistent rime pattern. It strains at its mission and falls a little flat in execution, but it does succeed in dramatizing the feelings of the teacher.

(Please note: The incorrect spelling, "rhyme," was erroneously introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson. For my explanation for using only the correct form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

First Stanza: "The blinds are drawn because of the sun"

The speaker notes that because the "blinds are drawn," the room takes on a quality of the surreal. He metaphorically likens the room to "a colourless gloom / Of underwater." Reminded of floating underwater in a lake, he sees "bright ripples run / Across the walls." After having concocted a lake in the transformed classroom, the speaker then logically avers that he "sit[s] on the shores of the class."

The speaker/teacher watches the students as they write. He notes their colorful summer clothes and that from time to time a boy will look up at the teacher "to ponder very quietly." But this teacher, the reader must remember, is the same one who disdains his job and students in the afternoon, so it is not unusual that he could claim, "As seeing, he does not see." He has little respect for the student's ability to see and understand.

Second Stanza: "And then he turns again, with a little glad"

In the second stanza, the speaker assumes that as the lad returns his eyes to his writing, the student is glad to have found whatever it was he was looking for.

Third Stanza: "And very sweet it is, while the sunlight waves"

The third stanza finds the speaker revealing his best mood. No doubt he would prefer to keep that mood all day long. He declaims regarding how "sweet" it is "to sit alone with the class." The speaker/teacher becomes aware that he is connecting with them, and the sensation is like a "stream of awakening."

Knowledge is now flowing from the teacher to the students, "whose brightening souls it laves / For this little hour." The scene and atmosphere are very much unlike the depressed creature, who merely sits and waits for the bell to ring in the afternoon; in the morning the teacher is alive and looking for learning to take place.

Fourth Stanza: "This morning, sweet it is"

Again, the speaker asserts that his experience is "sweet." He can "feel the lads' looks light on me." They boys, who are writing, from time to time look up at the teacher, trying to think of just the right word or just the right phrasing. The teacher describes their little looks as, "Each one darting away with his / Discovery, like birds that steal and flee."

Fifth Stanza: "Touch after touch I feel on me"

The speaker/teacher takes each look quite personally. He imagines that they are looking at him "for the grain / Of rigour they taste delightedly." They look at him, and he guides them merely through that look.

Sixth and Seventh Stanzas: "As tendrils reach out yearningly"

In the final two stanzas, the speaker compares the students to tendrils on a vine that grow up a tree. He envisions that they are growing up to their own lives by using him as guide.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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