The primary school classroom may have been a place memorable to the poet through various images, but the definitive piece of the poet’s 1960’s school life was Mrs. Tilscher. Mrs. Tilscher’s voice is not even forgotten, as the poet reminisces her voice as she “chanted the scenery.” Mrs. Tilscher’s chanting brings about connotations of music in her voice and melodic speech. It also brings about a sense of religion, as she is made comparable to a pastor in a church chanting a sermon, enlightening and entrancing us all. Mrs. Tilscher is portrayed as a compassionate teacher: “Mrs. Tilscher loved you” and shows kindness and care. The terms around the lines focused on Mrs. Tilscher also have an implication on how she is illustrated to the reader. Words with intense connotations such as glowed, sweet, sugar and coloured have associations with moods of joy, brilliance, love and bliss which all elaborate on Mrs. Tilscher’s image. The teacher is also illustrated to be appreciative: “Some mornings you found she’d left a good gold star by your name.” Although it seems that the poet finds aspects of the classroom just as unforgettable as Mrs. Tilscher, the poet essentially portrays the classroom’s essence to be the work of Mrs. Tilscher, through her tone of voice. Choices of words or diction such as “could” have connotations of possibility. When put into context and further developed on, the implications go as far as unconstrained and limitless possibility. The teacher opens up a whole world of possibility, and it is because of this the poet remembers so much about her classroom, a boundless environment. It is because of Mrs. Tilscher that the poets classroom surroundings were made to be so memorable.
The poet’s tone of voice and language varies throughout the poem, and strong distinction is made between the first two stanzas and the last two stanzas. The language in the first two stanzas is exceptionally exuberant, more child-like in an emotional sense and the imagery is much more pleasant to envisage, filled with colour, vibrancy and liveliness: “Sugar paper. Coloured shapes.” Each individual phrase builds up an atmosphere full of warmth. However the last two stanzas are less joyous in their atmosphere, as the poet makes her transition to a state of being overwhelmed by hormones. The word connotations also vary greatly in these two stanzas, bringing suggestions of anger, accusation and dismay: “You kicked him, but stared at your parents, appalled.” The stanzas are also bleaker in description and imagery is uninviting: “The air tasted of electricity.” The poet’s feelings in stanza four are troubled, after being introduced to topic of how she was born: “A tangible alarm made you always untidy, hot, fractious under the heavy, sexy sky.” Such sentences furthermore use more mature and sophisticated language, which coincide with her growth as the language also develops. Therefore the poet’s outlook and tone of voice changes as she becomes much more interested in growing up than going to primary and learning in a high-spirited vibrant classroom.
The reader of the poem is invited to personally explore the main ideas within the poem. This personal involvement of the reader seems appropriate, as the main theme conveyed, the journey of growing up, is your own personal exclusive journey. This personal involvement is due to the narration of the poem from the second-person viewpoint. This is shown through the excessive use of the second-person pronoun “You.” By using this narration style, the experience of the young poet is made universal and common. We can all be subjected to her experiences of growing up from the second-person narrative perspective. Although the reader finds it easy enough to face the poet’s experiences, Mrs. Tilscher feels that she should have no influence in the young child’s journey of growing up, and that such a journey should proceed at the person’s own pace. When the child asks the teacher about how she was born, “Mrs. Tilscher smiled, then turned away.” Mrs. Tilscher may have believed that the poet would learn in her own time, but the poet nevertheless encourages the reader to enter her journey.
The poem illustrates two worlds in which the poet resided during her childhood days. The reader is able to capture not only the essence of the classroom, but also the limitless realm of the child’s imagination. Both these worlds exist alongside each other agreeably as the classroom is made into a creative place itself due to the influence of Mrs. Tilscher. The foremost apparent world presented by Carol Ann Duffy is the classroom. The classroom conveys images of riches, sweets, colour and joy. However beyond this, the classroom is seen to be a sanctuary. The classroom was a safe house against the world of murder and crime outside, as suggested by the mention of “Brady and Hindley” of the 1960’s. The real world begins to force an entry into the child’s reverie as she slowly begins to become conscious of the world outside. This is the first occasion in which the poet shows signs of growing up, which enforces the main theme of the poem. The girl learns that the real world isn’t to be trusted. The classroom however is portrayed as a world of its own, not troubled by the likes of such horrific murderers. The fear fades away in the classroom, and along with this so does the little hint of adulthood. She postpones her transition into adulthood for the meantime, as the poet shows us by using a child-like image after the allusion: “Brady and Hindley faded, like the faint uneasy smudge of a mistake.” This second component to the sentence indirectly illustrates the use of a pencil, and the occurrence of “silly mistakes.” It is because of this implication that the poet moves back into the state of childhood. The growth of the poet is exemplified in this classroom world, and therefore this world is very significant to the theme.
Conversely, on a more abstract plane, the poem portrays another world within the child’s mind. A whole world of imagination and vision. The poet expresses that she “could travel up the Blue Nile with your finger tracing the route.” The poet is tracing her finger down the Nile, and is in her imaginative world of Egypt. On the other hand, in reality the teacher is demonstrating sketch maps on the board. The word within the poem, which establishes both worlds within and without, is a metaphor on its own. The word “travel” is the single metaphor, which suggests that the poet is on a journey within her mind, when actually she is stationary within her school seat. The poet also conveys the main theme in this imaginative world, as the child not only travels with her finger and during her daydream, but she furthermore travels through her journey of growing up.
The child is beginning to grow into a great poet, and this is shown through various lines within the poem. A very strong contributor to this idea of the girl growing into a great poet is an example of synaesthesia: “The scent of a pencil, slowly carefully shaven.” This image appeals to all of the senses at once, and incorporates kinetic, olfactory, visual and tactile aspects. This line shows how the poet “carefully shaved” her pencil, just in the same way she carefully crafts sentences. This is extended even further by the link made between the writing tool and the writing process. The child poet is even able to link this image full of senses to the main theme of growing up. The act of the girl carefully shaving the pencil, symbolises how she is shaving or peeling off her childhood as she makes the transition into adulthood. The poet gradually conveys to the reader that there are two states of growth within the poem, and that the girl is maturing both into adolescence and into a mind of an exceptional poet.
The last stanza of the poem focuses the atmosphere and the attitude of the poet into an uninviting overcast, but also centers in on the theme. It illustrates the “feverish” month of July, oppressed by the summer and heat. Alongside this are the hormones of the child, felt almost within the air. These hormones amplify the effect of the afflicting heat. The air also “tasted of electricity”, which conveys the anticipation of summer thunderstorms due to the heavy air. However “electricity” also relates with the hormones to suggest that the child will spark at random times and also that the growth of the child is full of charge, energy and excitement. Further along, the use of the phrase “a tangible alarm” portrays an almost touchable fear within the air. This fear made the girl “fractious under the sexy sky.” This expresses to the reader that the girl had many sudden outbursts of anger due to her hormones. These hormones influence her thoughts and are the causes behind the poet using the term “sexy” to describe the sky. The last line of the poem communicates how this adolescent phase is like a thunderstorm. The thunderstorm represents her feelings of puberty, as she feels as though the whole world is coming down on her, just as in a thunderstorm. The lightning of a thunderstorm also links to the connotations of the “electricity.” The lightning of the thunderstorm could symbolize the mood swings awaiting the child. The lightning also illustrates the fact that there is an unsettlement within the child, as if an electric current was continually running through her. The rain of a thunderstorm conveys the downpour of gloom upon the child throughout the hard times to come. On an overall view the experience of puberty and growing up is just a phase and in time will pass. Soon the child will be entirely in adulthood. Likewise the thunderstorm is just an unpleasant phase in the sequence of weather and in time shall pass. Before long the sun will overpower such a ghastly occurrence of weather.
Overall, “In Mrs. Tilscher’s Class” by Carol Ann Duffy is a poem which allows the reader to personally identify themselves with the poet. The poem is contrastive between the stanzas and thus the poet is able to isolate the main idea. Two worlds are created expressing the wonders of the classroom, but also illustrating the unconstrained world of the girl’s imagination. Through these two worlds we see signs of the girl growing into a great poet. However the most essential idea of the poem is the theme of growing up and maturing. It is a journey through adolescence: “You ran through the gates, impatient to be grown.”
Word Count: 1879