D. H. Lawrence’s "Last Lesson of the Afternoon"
D. H. Lawrence
Last Lesson of the Afternoon
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.
No more can I endure to bear the brunt
Of the books that lie out on the desks: a full three score
Of several insults of blotted pages and scrawl
Of slovenly work that they have offered me.
I am sick, and tired more than any thrall
Upon the woodstacks working weariedly.
And shall I take
The last dear fuel and heap it on my soul
Till I rouse my will like a fire to consume
Their dross of indifference, and burn the scroll
Of their insults in punishment? - I will not!
I will not waste myself to embers for them,
Not all for them shall the fires of my life be hot,
For myself a heap of ashes of weariness, till sleep
Shall have raked the embers clear: I will keep
Some of my strength for myself, for if I should sell
It all for them, I should hate them -
- I will sit and wait for the bell.
The Complete Poems of D.H. Lawrence
This collection includes "Last Lesson of the Afternoon"
Lawrence’s poem, "Last Lesson of the Afternoon," contains a rime scheme that is scattered throughout the six stanzas. The utter boredom of the teacher is played out in this haphazard scattered rime scheme.
First Stanza: “When will the bell ring, and end this weariness”
The speaker compares his uninspired students to dogs that pull on the leash trying to free themselves from his instruction. They do not want to learn, and he does not want to teach. To this teacher, these students resemble dogs who have no desire to learn the lessons that this teacher is trying to teach them.
This teacher comes to the conclusion that he can no longer continue this charade of teaching and learning that is not happening. He desires to free himself from this the same cage that he deems these students so unwillingly occupy.
Second Stanza: “No longer now can I endure the brunt”
This teacher does not have the patience and love of the young to teach; he is weary, and he cannot empathize with these students who can muster only a lackluster performance. He loathes facing the many papers with badly written scrawls that disgust him. His sixty charges have handed in to him “slovenly work,” and he is bone tired of having to confront it. He asserts that it does him no service, but it also does not serve his students as well.
Third Stanza: “So shall I take”
The speaker then assumes that even if he commits all of his energy of efforts to these students, he cannot justify to himself the expenditure of that energy. His very soul is being wasted in attempts to teach the unteachable. He senses that he is being insulted by the students’ lack of motivation and desire to achieve.
He has determined that there is no value in struggling to impart knowledge to a bunch of seemingly braindead urchins who possess not a shred of desire to acquire an education.
Fourth Stanza: “I will not waste my soul and strength for this”
This teacher proclaims his intention to stop using up his soul power in vain attempts to teach these recalcitrant unteachables. He looks fate in the eye and finds that no matter what he does, no matter what they do, it "all goes down the same abyss." Whether he teachers or not, it does not matter. Whether they learn or not, it does not matter.
Thus, he makes a vow to himself to cease this purposeless activity. Nothing he does can influence these poor souls, so why, he asks himself, should he continue to do it? Why torture himself as he tortured the undeliverable?
Fifth Stanza: “What does it matter to me if they can write”
The speaker offers a very specific example in this stanza, as he declares that it does not matter, if they are able to “write / A description of a dog, or if they can’t.” He queries, “What is the point?”
He bitterly complains repeatedly about the ultimate purpose of all this activity. He asserts that as a teacher, he is obligated to assume responsibly “with all his might.” He ca no longer care, if, in fact, he ever did. He feels that the effort is not worth it. He must move on. Vaguely, he implies that teachers are born, not made.
Sixth Stanza: “I do not, and will not, they won’t and they won’t; and that’s all”
The disgruntled teacher has landed on his perfect thought. Like the students who resist learning, he has become the teacher who will resist teaching. He will "sit and wait for the bell," just as his students are doing.
If they do not want to learn, then he concludes, why should he want to teach? He is tried of wasting his efforts on a futile activity. The battle between unwilling student and unenthusiastic teacher ends in a stalemate. The image of them both sitting and waiting for the bell to ring signals a rather sad scenario of futility.
© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes