The Village Schoolmaster Poem Analysis Essay



Oliver Goldsmith


Oliver Goldsmith was born in Longfield and was educated at the Trinity College,Dublin. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Medicine, but he never practiced as aDoctor. His main works are The Traveler(1764), Vicar of Wakefield(1766), TheDeserted Village( 1770) and She Stoops to Conquer(1773).In this poem, which is an extract form ‘The Deserted Village’, he describes the village,Auburn modeled on his own village, Lissoy. He describes the sight of the muted villages,as the villagers have abandoned it and have gone to the cities in search of ‘Wantonwealth’. This extract is focused over the village school and gives a character sketch of the village schoolmaster who taught at that school. It also gives an account on the viewsof the children as well as that of the villagers of Auburn about the school master.


The opening lines of the poem describe the building of the village school which wassurrounded by an irregular hedge, which was fully blossomed. The village school isreferred to as a ‘Noisy mansion’ which is a transferred epithet.“There, in his noisy mansion, skilled to rule”The building is noisy as it holds a number of school children in it.


The poet depicts the undisputed and sovereign power of the village school master. Hewas a strict disciplinarian with a hard and rigid expression on his face, which made everytruant anxious.“A man severe he was and stern to view”The poet also describes that the dangers of that day to be faced by the students could be predicted from the grim expression on his face.


The children were quite afraid of the village school master. The truants, especiallywere quite anxious about him. The children could foresee the dangers that were awaitingthem that day from the grim expression of the school master.“The day’s disaster in his morning face”When the school master expressed his sense of humor by a joke, the children laughed toit with ‘Counterfeited glee’.“Full well they laughed, with counterfeited glee”In these lines, the poet gives a vivid description of an ideal classroom in a village school.


Since education was scarce in villages, the school master was very much respected bythe villagers of Auburn for his abundant knowledge. The school master could measure,write and count, which was of great help for them.“Twas certain he could write and cipher too”He could measure lands, and foretell the terms and tides, which was useful for the peasants for making various payments such as their rents, wages, etc…

Presentation on theme: "The Village Schoolmaster"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Village Schoolmaster

2 This is not really a whole poem but an extract from Goldsmith's long poem The Deserted Village, which runs to 430 lines. In the opening line of the complete poem, Goldsmith names the village as "sweet Auburn" - but the original on which it is modelled was, according to the poet's sister, Lissoy, in County Westmeath, Ireland.

3 This passage is a portrait of a teacher at the village school
This passage is a portrait of a teacher at the village school. The poet is looking back on a time when the village was lively and active whereas now no one lives there. (Goldsmith's readers knew this as a reality - changes in land ownership, coupled with new job opportunities in machine production, had caused people to move from the country to the cities, leaving many villages without people.)

4 In doing so, Goldsmith represents the past as a kind of golden age - a better, kinder and happier time, certainly. Here he expresses admiration for the village teacher. He lists his personal qualities and gives details of the master's learning. But above all he shows how the schoolmaster belonged in his place - having the affection and respect of the whole community.

5 The poem in detailGoldsmith identifies the site of the school, in the way he might point it out to a visitor, as beside a fence ("straggling" perhaps, because no-one maintains it now). "Noisy mansion" is partly ironic - the school building would be modest, not really a "mansion" (a luxurious house) except to the teacher and scholars, who would be used to tiny cottages or hovels.

6 The teacher is outwardly strict, and the scholars learn to respond to his moods (some things do not change much). But he is really kind. Among his accomplishments are literacy ("he could write") and numeracy ("and cipher"). He could measure distances on charts, calculate dates and forecast tides. People believe that he can "gauge" (survey land or estimate its area) - but we do not know if the belief is justified. Most impressive, the village parson recognized his ability to argue.

7 The less educated country people were full of wonder that "one small head could carry" so much. To the reader, his learning will seem quite limited, but also not especially academic, as we would now call it. Much of what the teacher knows or is rumoured to know is of immediate practical usefulness - like working out dates, tides and land areas.

8 The poet's methodThe form of this poem is in a long sequence of the kind that we call discursive - it moves from one mini-subject to another, in a carefully-organized whole.

9 The other feature is a very delicate irony
The other feature is a very delicate irony. Goldsmith is sincere in his admiration, and he does think that the teacher is a good and worthy man. But he reveals that this object of the villagers' wonder was really quite limited in his achievements. The villagers think it marvellous that he can write and count, for example - but this tells us more about them than about him.

10 The great importance of the parson as a judge of ability appears, too
The great importance of the parson as a judge of ability appears, too. (If the parson says it, then it must be true.) Most revealing is the way that the schoolmaster impressed people in argument - by using "words of learned length and thundering sound". (This could almost be a criticism of poetic diction, too.) That is, he did not win by logic or reason, but through using words that baffled the hearer

11 There are still people who find this impressive, but nowadays we are often unconvinced by those who hide a weak argument behind impressive-sounding words. Moreover, the fact that most of the village people seem to remain ignorant rustics may mean that the schoolmaster has never succeeded in passing on much of his learning to the scholars.

12 We also note the formal use of contrast - one pair of lines beginning "Full well" shows how the scholars would know when to laugh (even pretending to find his jokes funny), while the next pair shows how they knew when he was in a more severe mood.


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