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‘Last Lesson of the Afternoon’ is a poem written by D H Lawrence. It talks about the sufferings of a teacher and how purposeless his job and his students seem to be. This is thus a poem where the persona, a teacher, laments over his job.
About the poet:
David Herbert Richards Lawrence (1885-1930) was an English poet. He was also a notable essayist, playwright and critic. Famous works of his include ‘The White Peacock’, ‘The Rainbow’ and ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’.
The theme of this poem is the weariness a teacher undergoes on an everyday basis. He laments over the mundaneness and the pointlessness of it. A sense of desolation can be observed as an underlying theme.
This is a poem written in free verse. Made up of six stanzas, it has no apparent rhyme scheme. The stanzas present are of varying lengths.
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.
The poem begins with the persona, clearly a teacher, desperately anticipating the ring of the bell to signify the end of school. He is utterly weary of his job and proceeds to compare his students to ‘hounds’, hounds he is unable to leash, that is, restrain. A sense of loss of hope can be observed here where the persona is seen to have given up, unable to urge his unwilling students to learn any longer.
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!
The second stanza echoes the sentiments previously found in the first stanza. The persona is sick of the books and the daunting paper work he is forced to endure, which he considers to be ‘insults’. He muses on what good it does when both he and his students hate them so dearly.
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 punishment? — I will not! —
The persona continues to bemoan his fate. He complains on why he ought to summon his will to make an effort when all they are going to show him is indifference, and to insult him as though to punish him. He answers his own rhetorical question- he refuses to do so.
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 mine, and of this Learning of theirs? It all goes down the same abyss.
His tone becomes vehement here. He reasserts that he refuses to waste his soul and energy to teach a bunch of uninterested students. He states that he doesn’t care about them for what was the point of him teaching them and them learning from him in such a fashion! He feels that, at the end of the day, all of this is utter waste anyway.
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.
He continues his previous line of thought in this stanza. The persona muses out loud how he doesn’t care if they can describe a dog or not, revealing his disinterest in the welfare of his students, students who do not make any effort to learn. In the final part of the stanza however, his tone becomes resigned as he is forced to care about it all the same, his personal views notwithstanding.
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?
In the final stanza, he poses the readers with a definitive statement on how his unwillingness and their unwillingness is just that, unwillingness. He declares that he is going to save his strength and gives his students the option of saving theirs as well. After all, why must they break their heads doing something they both despise? He contends himself to simply wait for the bell to signal the end of the day.
This is a poem where a teacher, who is usually over glorified, is portrayed in a rather negative light. Although seemingly justified, he is displayed as a teacher who shows not an ounce of delight in doing his job. He neither cares for his students nor his job, solely concerned with the misery he finds himself to be in.