The Dunce Poem by Jacques Prevert Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


“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.