20 October 2008

Thrall*

The 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.

by D. H. Lawrence (1885 -1930)

I guess I first read this poem when I was seventeen or eighteen. I "used" it today with a class of eleven/twelve year olds after more years in the classroom than I care to remember. Suddenly, it starts to really mean something to me... "I will keep some of my strength for myself". In this most thankless of jobs, you sometimes really do feel that your life force is burning away instead of being conserved for the future. Working in a council estate school with government and local council targets to meet, A4 ringbinders full of the usual governmentally driven bumf and lots of kids with "issues" caused by poverty, marital breakdown, television and negative role modelling at home - it's virtually impossible to keep going till you're sixty. As I have often remarked, it's like being in a "shit sandwich". Who was it who sang, "I gotta get out of this place if it's the last thing I ever do". Well surely I can't go on much longer. I owe it to myself to get out. As the Hull City returnee, Nick Barmby announced after leaving Leeds United - "Money Isn't Everything!"

*Thrall = slave

8 comments:

  1. Sitting here resonating in sympathy, YP. That's why I teach, on average one day a week, and paint my little heart out these days. Time will tell if I can do it long term, maybe I'll have to work in the local bookshop... teaching full time is too hard.

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  2. I hope this doesn't sound trite, especially as I really don't know how teachers cope on a day to day basis, but when you say your task is thankless I bet you can easily recall those teachers who inspired and enthused you about their subjects. I am quite sure that very many of your former pupils look back and think about you with affection and gratitude. Sometimes my daughter comes in raving about how good a particular class has been - and I envy the teachers that make her feel that way.

    Great poem btw - when I started reading it I thought - YP is a bloody good poet. That Mr Lawrence wasn't bad either.

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  3. I think teaching has always been hard but this government have made it particularly thankless. My two year old will start nursery soon (I will hold back for a while)...I was handed a sheaf, nay novel, of papers to complete for him! Filling in masses of papers for a toddler...it is beyond belief.

    I really hope that the system changes before too long.

    Don't despair YP! I agree with JJ you are probably having more infuence on 'em than you think.

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  4. I just do not know how you do it. I would be led away with a blanket over my head in handcuffs after a day.Total respect to you and your profession.

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  5. Go for it, YP (and the sooner the better). I had my first 'school' dream last night after being a sounding board for my wife's awful day with Y11, and it's almost half-term. That's the biggest change I've noticed since September: restful sleep.

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  6. Greetings! Came here from Katherine in NZ's lovely blog. Thanks for the DHLawrence reminder - i used to be a big fan many moons ago. This poems wonderful. I still thank my english teacher for the fact that i can write at all - so am sure you are making a lasting impression on your 'pack of unruly hounds' too.

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  7. YP, Val is kindness personified - SHE'S a marvellous writer - if you haven't dropped in on her, I highly recommend you do!

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  8. I agree with the other comments but, as I often tell my clients, if you don't look after yourself, you can't look after anyone else. We only get one go at this life and teachers do not statistically have a good track record for a long and healthy life after retirement!

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