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Last Lesson of the Afternoon and Dead Thick

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‘Last Lesson of the Afternoon’ and ‘Dead Thick’ are to poems by D.H Lawrence and Brian Patten respectively. ‘Last Lesson of the Afternoon’ expresses a mood of bitter desperation at the thanklessness of an English teachers’ work and details his thoughts as he yearns for the conclusion of the lesson. He conveys his thoughts in a unique and entertaining way. Patten also uses an English teacher as his subject in ‘Dead Thick’. The teacher is very hypocritical and seems to be answering a series of questions. The title ‘Dead Thick’ illuminates the teachers’ ironic lack of intelligence as a teacher and his lack of passion is evident.

In ‘Last Lesson of the Afternoon’ the teachers weariness, ‘I can haul them and urge them no more’ and negative state of mind, ‘No longer now can I endure the brunt of the books…’ are highlighted throughout by the choice of verbs. He seems to be totally exasperated and seems only to be in the job for the money and promotion. The teachers’ mood also changes throughout the poem. In stanza two he is in utter despair, ‘I am sick, and what on earth is the good of it all?’ which turns into anger, as he reflects on their ‘Dross of indifference’ and states vehemently ‘Take the toll of their insults in punishment? – I will not! -‘ In stanzas four and five he becomes flippant, ‘What do I care?’ ‘What is the point?’ His flippancy is enhanced by the rhetorical questions. In stanza six he is back to despair again, ‘Why should we beat our heads against the wall of each other?’

In ‘Dead Thick’ the teachers lack of passion for his job and the children is evident and it also seems he is in it for the money, ‘I’m after a promotion.’ He is hypocritical throughout saying that the children, ‘Haven’t read a book in years.’ Yet he says that he hasn’t, ‘Read a book in years.’ This is ironic. He explains this by saying; ‘Nothings grabbed my fancy’ which suggests that he has no inclination to even look. The teacher shows contempt for the ‘Kids [who] are thick.’ He is quite a lazy writer for an English teacher even though he has not, ‘Kept up with the modern stuff.’ Which is very vague and we don’t know what ‘stuff’ is until later on in the poem.

He is also very obstinate saying, ‘If I have to’ suggesting that reading a book is a chore. He seems disinterested in books as he says he has read ‘A few but nothing new’ and he also seems dismissive ‘Too busy for literature.’ Both of the poets are indifferent towards the children and their job. In ‘Last lesson of the afternoon’ the changing emotions indicate his belief that this is a vocation, he knows that he is, ‘supposed to care with all [his] might.’ In ‘Dead Thick’ this belief is not there, he thinks that teaching is just a job not a vocation and he makes clear the lack of care he appears to take in his job.

Both poems are also different structurally as ‘Last Lesson of the Afternoon’ has irregular rhythm and consciousness, which supports Lawrence’s style of self-questioning. The mixture of end rhyme ‘Hunt/Brunt’ between stanzas one and two; half rhyme ‘Point/Aunt’ in stanza five and integral rhyme ‘Won’t/Don’t’ in stanza six, together skilfully bind Lawrence’s thoughts together. Punctuation in the form of semi-colons and exclamation marks create pace and tone ‘I do not and will not; they won’t and they don’t; and/that’s all!’ which entices you to read more.

In stanza three the poem takes a more poetic/formal approach, which indicates his abilities. He uses an extended metaphor to indicate his contemplation about whether to ‘Kindle’ his last bit of energy; showing his own ‘Flame’ in order to ‘Consume’ their unenthusiastic nature. In stanza five ‘It is all my aunt!’ is a deliberate nonsensical mistake, which reflects his opinions about teaching i.e. he doesn’t understand what the point is.

‘Dead Thick’ has no regular rhyme and rhythm, which reflects the teachers’ attitude. The poem takes the form of an interview with the teacher as the interviewee who responds to a stream of questions. The punctuation enhances this style in stanza three with the use of question marks and one or two word sentences ‘What do I do? Teach. English. It’s exhausting.’ This also creates a sense of pace and tone and its sheer bluntness shocks the reader.

The imagery in ‘Last Lesson of the Afternoon’ is used to some effect, especially in stanza one where Lawrence uses an extended metaphor. He describes the children as ‘My pack of unruly hounds’ a powerful image suggesting that they never relent. There is also a rhetorical question ‘How long have they tugged the leash,’ which shows that there is no element of control. He cannot ‘Start /Them again on a quarry of knowledge they hate to hunt,’ perhaps suggestive of several things; is Lawrence the ‘Quarry’ – the intended prey, the implication of being that is a matter of survival of the fittest in the classroom! Or, to ‘Quarry’ for knowledge means to extract facts laboriously from books which is ironic as these children have no interest in books and all that they offer is a ‘Scrawl/Of slovenly work.’

Patten’s poem is more modern and conversational but less poetic and formal. It is colloquial in that ‘Nothing’s grabbed my fancy’ and ‘I haven’t kept up with the modern stuff.’ This is effective because it shows the teachers laziness in writing which is ironic because he is an English teacher. There is no real imagery in ‘Dead Thick’ we just get a sense that it is an interview ‘What do I do? Teach. English. It’s exhausting.’ And the teacher is the person being interviewed.

To conclude, I prefer ‘Last Lesson of the Afternoon’ because it is more poetic and more formal. It is more structured than ‘Dead Thick,’ which is a more colloquial and contains more relaxed language.

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