In Mrs Tilscher's Class

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In this poem, Duffy affectionately remembers her experience of one year in her primary school, in particular the class of Mrs Tilscher. School, and especially Mrs Tilscher's class, was a place of security and adventure:

'Mrs Tilscher loved you', school, 'was better than home'.

The poem is very evocative.

Duffy uses lots of sensual imagery to dramatise the childhood world, so that we can experience it for ourselves. There is a lot of visual imagery, from the description of the 'chalky Pyramids' on the blackboard to the sky splitting open at the end of the poem.

We also hear the loving primary school teacher 'chanting', and the children 'croaking' in imitation of frogs.

Children

The poem is also about growing up and the confusion and excitement that this can bring.

The innocent world of the first two stanzas gives way to a more complex world with the introduction sex by the 'rough boy'. At the end of the poem the 'thunderstorm' seems to be an image of coming adolescence.

This is an excellent poem to write about because there is so much in it, and it easy for all of us to relate to.

Language

There is a lot of sensual imagery in the poem. The function of this is to bring the experience to life, so that the reader can see and hear, and touch the scene.

The following table identifies which senses the lines quoted form the first stanza appeal to.

As you can see, hear and touch, there is a lot of detail...

Scents

As well as all this wealth of sensual imagery, Duffy also uses more recognisable poetic devices in this poem. There are two similes, a couple of metaphors and some personification.

Similes:

'The classroom glowed like a sweet shop'

'Brady and Hindley faded, like the faint uneasy smudge of a mistake.'

Metaphors:

'The inky tadpoles changed from commas into exclamation marks.'

'A thunderstorm.' (If we take this to refer to adolescence)

Personification:

'The laugh of a bell.'

'The heavy, sexy sky.'

  • Remember, in the exam you will not get marks for identifying a simile or metaphor; it is what you say about them, your analysis, which will score marks.

So what would be your analysis of "The classroom glowed like a sweet shop"?

You can find an example of the sort of analysis you should aim for in the 'War Photographer' Learn-it.

Form

The poem is set out in four solid, stable looking stanzas. The first two stanzas have eight lines the second have seven.

Again a change in stanza form underlines a change in attitude or mood. The stanzas change as the child is changing.

Perhaps they get shorter because the child is excited and wants to grow up, and because time seems to be go faster as you get older.

The fact that the change of form is small and subtle suggests the changes to the child won't be that obvious to the outside world, and that the change will be reassuringly gradual.

Subject
The poem celebrates childhood and a wonderful, imaginative, loving teacher. Everything in the first two stanzas is magical, warm, colourful and exciting. The first line gives the impression that they felt like they really were travelling up the Blue Nile. Even the books are 'Enthralling'!
The second half of the poem introduces more complex feelings, although mixed still with comedy and Mrs Tilscher's warmth.
The final line suggests excitement, opportunity, fresh horizons, 'split open' and perhaps some emotional turmoil.
After all the summer holidays are about to start!

Attitude
The tone of the poem is one of warmth, affection, and of love.
It communicates the headlong excitement of being young.
The final stanza introduces a slightly more troubled tone, but there is still the sense of wonder and enthusiasm for life.

Style
Duffy brings the poem to life by using a lot of sensual imagery. We can see, hear, touch, taste, even smell, the world she describes.
There are lots of exact contemporary details, such as the milk, the gold star, and the pole for opening the window. These help to establish the time as well as the place.
Duffy uses figurative language, and these images all relate to the world and perspective of a child, whose idea of heaven is a 'sweet shop'.
Duffy subtly changes the form to suggest the changes for the child as she grows up.

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