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

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

D. H. Lawrence

Introduction and Text of "Best of School"

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 speaker/teacher.

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

Best of School

The blinds are drawn because of the sun,
And the boys and the room in a 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 their 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

Commentary

While contrasting somewhat with his poem, "Last Lesson of the Afternoon," this one does dramatize clearly the feelings of the teacher.

First Stanza: A Surreal Classroom

The blinds are drawn because of the sun,
And the boys and the room in a 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 their 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

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: Imagining Student Thoughts

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.

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: His Best Mood

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.

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: Sweet Experience

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.

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: Guiding by Looks

Touch after touch I feel on me
As their eyes glance at me for the grain
Of rigour they taste delightedly.

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: A Teacher's Influence

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

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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