Summary of The Last Lesson of The Afternoon
The Last Lesson of the Afternoon by David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) expresses a mood of bitter desperation and disappointment at the lack of gratitude for a teacher’s work. The poet, who also happens a teacher, compares his students to hounds because they hate chasing knowledge. The teacher tried hard to motivate the students to learn, but he could not inspire them to learn. He feels that his teaching and the learning of the students are both useless because he can no longer haul them and urge them.
The poet describes very strongly what he feels and the inner turmoil he suffers. Finally, he thinks he won’t waste his soul and strength in teaching those students who show so much indifference to the study.
Question: Write an account of your opinion /idea about this poem.
Answer. The poem “Last Lesson Of Afternoon” by David Herbert Richards Lawerence reflects the viewpoint of a teacher who feels that his hard attempt at teaching a class of sixty students is an exercise in futility. The poem expresses a mood of anger and bitter desperation at the thanklessness of a teacher’s work. The teacher is tired of his students and are not interested in the quest or ‘hunt’ for knowledge and are unruly in their behaviour.
The teacher is waiting for the last bell to ring to get rid of these stubborn things. The poem teacher is a pessimist, in my opinion. Lawrence was supposed to care for him because he was a teacher at the time, but he felt that his time at school was futile. His final determination is to sit out, wait for the clock and not drain his strength but keep it alive. He stopped trying.
In making the teaching-learning process a success, a teacher should first of all create a home atmosphere in the school that is conducive to learning and not an abnormal environment. Students must be eager to attend school rather than tug the leash. If a teacher fails in his first or second attempt, he must not lose his heart but try again. After all, students are human beings with a developed brain. If you want to change them, they can be changed.
Analysis of the Poem
This poem was penned near the close of World War One. Lawrence was disliked in his town for refusing to fight in the war and marrying a German woman. People accused him of being a spy because of these circumstances. Men who did not participate in the war were forced to work in civilian positions such as teaching, and since there were so few teachers, classes were quite large.
Lawrence’s poetry is often biographical (based on his own life). ‘Last lesson of the afternoon’ is about this period in his life when he was teaching. (He did this for about four years.)
Lawrence’s poetry is usually autobiographical in nature (based on his own life). The poem ‘Last lesson of The Afternoon‘ is about this time in his life when he was a teacher. (This lasted around four years.)
This poem gives us a peep (look) into a teacher’s thoughts. Lawrence was an honest writer, and he was not going to pretend that he enjoyed reading his students’ sloppy work. He also recognised that they were dissatisfied with what he was teaching (creative writing was a subject in those days).
1. When will the bell ring, and end this weariness?
2. How long have they tugged the leash, and strained apart,
3. My pack of unruly hounds! I cannot start
4. Them again on a quarry of knowledge they hate to hunt,
5. I can haul them and urge them no more.
Line 1: Rhetorical question: The teacher wonders if the final bell that ends the school day will ever ring.
Rhetorical Question: A rhetorical question expects no answer. The poet uses it to make his point and strengthen his argument!
Lines 2 – 3: He compares his learners to a pack of hunting dogs (metaphor). He does this because he feels he has been trying to lead them in one direction while they pull on their ‘leads’ to go in another direction.
Metaphor: A metaphor is a comparison without using like or as.
• A metaphor refers to one person or object (as) being (like) another.
• The comparison is implied rather than stated directly.
Line 4: quarry of knowledge – a pit of knowledge
they hate to hunt – they are not interested in knowledge
Line 5: The teacher is exhausted! He wants to give up – he is not going to force knowledge into them any longer.
6. No longer now can I endure the brunt
7. Of the books that lie out on the desks; a full three-score
8. Of several insults of blotted pages, and scrawl
9. Of slovenly work that they have offered me.
10. I am sick, and what on earth is the good of it all?
11. What good to them or me, I cannot see!
Lines 6 – 7: Now the poet focuses our attention on the written work that is lying on his learners’ desks to be collected.
endure : to suffer something painful or difficult with patience.
brunt : the main force or shock of a blow, attack.
Lines 7 – 9: The teacher does not even want to look at them – he describes them
as ‘insults’ because he thinks that his learners do not have any respect for him or the subject he is teaching.
The work was untidy because in those days there were no ball point pens or even fountain pens. Pupils used dip pens and the desks had little wells filled with ink in which they dipped the pens. The trouble was that if you were not very careful, the excess ink would run over your paper and make huge black blobs on your paper. Pupils who did not care about their work would produce sheets of paper with these blobs all over them – pupils could use blotting paper otherwise the ink would get on clothes.
three-score: 60 pages of written work.
Lines 10 – 11: The teacher does not see the purpose of all of this – not for him or the learners.
12 . So, shall I take
13 . 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
16 . of their insults in punishment? – I will not!
Lines 12 – 16: The teacher makes a decision in this stanza – he will not spend his energy (my last dear fuel of life) on his learners. He is going to spend it on himself. He has already tried to teach them and that did not work.
He ends this stanza by saying that he is no longer going to be punished by their careless work – this is ironic – usually the teacher metes out punishment, now he feels that his learners are punishing him through their sloppy work.
Irony: Irony implies the opposite of what is said – example: A detective who is employed to catch a thief, might himself be arrested for dishonesty.
17. I will not waste my soul and my strength for this.
18. What do I care for all that they do amiss!
19. What is the point of this teaching of mine, and of this
20. Learning of theirs? It all goes down the same abyss.
Line 17: The teacher decides he is wasting his physical (strength) and spiritual (soul) strength on something that is not worthwhile.
Line 18: He is not going to do this any longer – he no longer cares if they don’t learn anything or if their work is incorrect .
Line 20: abyss (a deep, immeasurable space)
He feels as if all the teaching and learning is falling down some huge chasm or empty hole.
21. What does it matter to me, if they can write
22. A description of a dog, or if they can’t?
23. What is the point? To us both, it is all my aunt!
24. And yet I’m supposed to care, with all my might.
Lines 21 – 24: In this stanza we discover that Lawrence is teaching creative writing or communicating ideas on paper and only few learners are interested in this. He says to most of them it is not important if they can write a good description of a dog. Yet, he as the teacher is supposed to care.
Line 23: it is all my aunt – It means it’s nonsense or a waste of time.
25 . I do not, and will not; they won’t and they don’t; and that is all!
26. I shall keep my strength for myself; they can keep theirs as well.
27. Why should we beat our heads against the wall
28. Of each other? I shall sit and wait for the bell.
Lines 25 – 26: The teacher decides he will not care and he is going to keep all his strength to himself – he knows his learners will not care, no matter what he does.
Line 27: ‘Bang my head against a wall’ means to do, say, or ask for something repeatedly but to be unable to change a situation.
He has come to a decision: he and his learners are not going to bash their heads against the walls of each other’s indifference (lack of concern).
Line 28: He has decided to sit and wait for the bell.
Textbook Questions of The Last Lesson Of Afternoon
Question No.1 What is the tone in the opening line of the poem?
Answers. The poem, in the opening line, contains a tone of bitter desperation and disappointment at the thanklessness of a teacher’s work. His students are not interested in the quest or ‘hunt’ for knowledge and are unruly in their behaviour.
Question No.2 Who is the speaker of the poem?
Answer. The poet who also happened to be a teacher is the speaker of the poem.
Question No.3 What are the pupils regarded as? Why has the teacher failed to ‘ haul them and urge them’ any more?
Answer. The pupils are regarded as uncontrolled hunting dogs(unruly hounds). The teacher has failed to haul them or urge them any more because the pupils have no interest in learning. One can take a horse to the river but twenty can not make him drink.
Question No. 4 Which words or phrases in stanza 2 convey the mood of the speaker?
Answer. The speaker is feeling angry, impatient and desperate in stanza 2. The expressions that convey the mood of the speaker are:
No longer now can I endure……
I am sick…..
What on earth is good of it all?
What good to them (his students) or me, I cannot see.
Question No.5 Why doesn’t the speaker want to consume his fuel anymore?
Answer. The speaker does not want to waste the last dear fuel (energy) of his life anymore because he feels that it is mere wastage of time and energy to teach knowledge to the students who hate to chase knowledge.
Question No.6 What do you think ‘take the toll of their punishment ‘means?
Answer. This means that he has sunk to the very lowest point of his life, and cannot sink any further or take this kind of life anymore. He has attempted his level best to mould the students but in turn, he does not gain any positive results. Hence he feels insulted. He feels that he has been rewarded with punishment(their slovenly work). He decides here that he will not take this any longer.
Question No.7 Why does the teacher feel that his teaching and the pupils’ learning are both purposeless? Pick out words and phrases which show that he shares his pupils’ indifference to their work.
Answer. The teacher feels that his teaching and the pupils’ learning are both purposeless because in spite of hard efforts to teach knowledge to the students he has failed to obtain any positive outcomes from them. Here are are some words and phrase showing that he shares his pupils’ indifference to their work:
i) ‘I will not!’ ‘I will not waste my soul…’ ‘I do not and will not…
ii) ‘ It all goes down the same abyss.’
Question No.8 Do you find any connection between the beginning and the ending of the poem?
Answer. There is a well-knit connection between the beginning and the ending of the poem. In the beginning, the teacher has been shown a pessimist who does not want to teach his students because they are unwilling to learning. But in the middle, he becomes a little optimistic and wants to utilize his energy to teach them. But again at the end, he gets a negative response from them and becomes pessimistic again. His final resolve is to sit it out, wait for the bell, and not drain his strength but keep it to live for his own life. He has given up trying.
Learning about the Literary Devices
Question No.09 What is the metaphor used by the poet in stanza 1?
Answer. In stanza 1, the poet uses the metaphor of a pack of hounds (his pupils) tugging at their leashes and straining. He also utilizes the metaphor by using words/ expressions such as ‘quarry’ (prey) of knowledge they hate to hunt(quest).
Question No.10 Identify the metaphor in stanza 3.
Answer. In stanza 3, the poet uses the metaphor of the last dear fuel of life(his energy and what is left to him of his life)
and the toll of insults( their slovenly work) as punishments.
Question No 11 Pick out some instances of alliteration in the poem.
Answer. Some instances of alliteration in the poem are given as;
1. When will the bell ring, and end this weariness?
2. they hate to hunt,/ I can haul them…
the brunt / Of the books
3. my soul and my strength for this.
4. A description of a dog,