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“The Dunce” is a poem written by Jaques Prevert. It is a poem that critiques the educational system.
About the Poet:
Jacques Prevert (1900-1977) was a prominent French poet. He was also a screenwriter. Famous works of his include “The Garden”, “First Day”, and “Hyde Park”.
This poem consists of 17 lines encompassed in a single stanza. Written in free verse, it does not follow a rhyme scheme.
Explanation of the Poem:
He says no with his head but he says yes with his heart he says yes to what he loves he says no to the teacher he stands he is questioned and all the problems are posed sudden laughter seizes him and he erases all the words and figures names and dates sentences and snares and despite the teacher's threats to the jeers of infant prodigies with chalk of every colour on the blackboard of misfortune he draws the face of happiness.
From the lines of the poem, it can be understood that the persona is a school-going young boy. The beginning of the poem reveals how his teacher forces him to learn the prescribed syllabus as his mind “says no to the teacher” even as his “heart” “says yes” to his passions. Hence, he is punished– made to stand that is– and “questioned”. From the title, it can also be gathered that he is called a “dunce” for the same. Yet, even in the face of “all the problems”, he laughs, throwing away all that he was forced to learn by rote. Ignoring his “teacher’s threats” and “jeers” of his peers who are academically proficient, he indulges in art, drawing “the face of happiness” on the blackboard.
This is a thought-provoking poem. It encourages the readers to question the rigid educational system and urges one to understand the simple joys of a child.