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The Village Schoolmaster Poem Analysis Essays

Oliver Goldsmith's The Deserted Village is both a marvellous descriptive poem and a powerful political essay. Polemic comes alive when it is grounded in detail, and Goldsmith conducts his argument using an expansive array of vivid supporting material – topographies, interiors, and sharp human portraits. The passage chosen for this week's poem is the best-known of those portraits. It provides an affectionate, humorous moment of respite from the surging emotions that carry the poem on its flood-tide of nostalgia, lamentation and invective.

Goldsmith's "Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain" is fictional, or at least a composite. The poet is blending recollections of the Irish village of his boyhood, Lissoy, and the fruits of his more recent travels through the villages of England, which had undergone similar enclosures and depopulation. Goldsmith's political argument is also a moral one, and the "shapeless ruin" he sees in the landscape reflects the decadence produced by the pursuit of luxury. The enclosures are aggravated by what might be called "privatisation by life-style", as "The man of wealth and pride / Takes up a space that many poor supplied; / Space for his lake, his park's extended bounds, / Space for his horses, equipage and hounds."

So, in the second line of the extract, we have the telling description of the furze blossom as "unprofitably gay". The school-master is a partly comic figure, but he too values something besides profit: learning. We are invited to see him through the villagers' eyes. The parson probably considers him a windbag. Others naively admire him for unexceptional skills such as the ability "to write, and cipher, too". However, some of those listed qualifications are practical and worth passing on, and there seems no irony in the claim that "Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage." He amounts to more than a pedant.

The next section introduces the village pub, and its details are recounted with much charm. Like the school-house, this building is described as a "mansion" (although now a tottering one), signalling the reverence for communal values. These shared places are the real wealth of the country, not the private estates. Of course, the poem is selective and village life idealised, even if the ideal is attainable compared with that of conventional pastoral. Conversely, emigration is viewed thoroughly negatively as a horrible journey into wilderness. But then, this is a poem of exile – written by an exile. The loss of the connective tissue between a land and its people was also Goldsmith's personal, individual experience. He struggled for survival in England and remained impoverished until the end of his life. The only way home was on that twin-rigged sailing ship of his imagination.

The Deserted Village

Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way,
With blossomed furze unprofitably gay,
There, in his noisy mansion, skilled to rule,
The village master taught his little school;
A man severe he was, and stern to view;
I knew him well, and every truant knew;
Well had the boding tremblers learned to trace
The day's disasters in his morning face;
Full well they laughed, with counterfeited glee,
At all his jokes, for many a joke had he;
Full well the busy whisper, circling round,
Conveyed the dismal tidings when he frowned;
Yet he was kind; or if severe in aught,
The love he bore to learning was in fault.
The village all declared how much he knew;
'Twas certain he could write, and cipher too;
Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage,
And even the story ran that he could gauge.
In arguing too, the parson owned his skill,
For e'en though vanquished, he could argue still;
While words of learned length and thundering sound
Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around,
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew
That one small head could carry all he knew.
But past is all his fame. The very spot
Where many a time he triumphed is forgot.
Near yonder thorn, that lifts its head on high,
Where once the signpost caught the passing eye,
Low lies that house where nut-brown draughts inspired,
Where grey-beard mirth and smiling toil retired,
Where village statesmen talked with looks profound,
And news much older than their ale went round.
Imagination fondly stoops to trace
The parlour splendours of that festive place:
The white-washed wall, the nicely sanded floor,
The varnished clock that clicked behind the door;
The chest contrived a double debt to pay, –
A bed by night, a chest of drawers by day;
The pictures placed for ornament and use,
The twelve good rules, the royal game of goose;
The hearth, except when winter chilled the day,
With aspen boughs, and flowers, and fennel gay;
While broken teacups, wisely kept for show,
Ranged o'er the chimney, glistened in a row.
Vain transitory splendours! Could not all
Reprieve the tottering mansion from its fall!


Oliver Goldsmith.


The village school master who ran his little school was a severe disciplinarian. The students were afraid of him and were sufficiently clever to assess from his face whether that day would bring any misfortune or not. In spite of his strictness, the school master was jolly. The children laughed at his jokes with pretended joy. If they noticed any sign of anger on his face they would spread the news throughout the classroom.

The school master was, in reality, a kind hearted person. His only fault was his excessive love for learning. He could write, work out sums, survey land, forecast the time and tide and measure the content of a vessel. He was a master at argument, too. He used verbose words when he talked and the simple village people would gawk at him. They were amazed that such a small head could hold such an enormous hoard of knowledge.

Summary of the Poem

The village school master ran his little school in a small village. It was situated next to the irregular fence that fringed the village path with full blossomed, beautiful but ornamental furze. He was not only a very strict disciplinarian but also a ferocious person to observe. He was familiar to the poet and all other truants because they had endured the master’s rage. His face was a thing of careful scrutiny. The trembling pupils would gaze at his face to sense his present frame of mind. The day misfortunes were written on his forehead or in between the eyebrows.

The school master was a contradiction. Although he was stern, he was kind and good-humored. He had a store of jokes. When he told them, the children burst out in fake laughter, under the pretext that the jokes were awfully hilarious. If the children observed a frown on his fore head, they circulated the gloomy news throughout the classroom in an undertone. But he was in essence a kind man. If at all he had any fault, it was his intense love for learning. He wanted his pupils to become genuine scholar and hence, he had to be demanding with them.

The villagers were unanimous in their opinion that he really was an erudite man. He without doubt could write and also work out sums in arithmetic. He could also survey land, forecast weather and tides. Besides, he was able to measure the content of a vessel .The parson approved of his skill in debate. Even if defeated, the school master would keep on arguing. He would become more fervent and would fling booming words at his adversary. The uncomprehending villagers would be convinced that the school master was establishing his standpoint very thoroughly. They stood round the two debaters and witnessed the verbal duel. They were awestruck when they heard the high-sounding and incomprehensible words used by the school master. They gawked at him and wondered how his small head could keep that enormous hoard of knowledge.


This poem is a simple vignette of a village school master. The school was in a small village at Lissoy, an Irish village where the poet himself had studied. Mr. Thomas Paddy Byrne was the village school master. This poem has become one of the classics of literature because of the ring of genuineness. As the poet himself was a pupil of this school master, he is able to create an authentic aura to the poem. With a fleeting allusion to the site, the poet starts to describe the man. The school master’s fluctuating moods, the situation in the class room and reactions of learner are described in this poem. It is amply obvious that Goldsmith looked upon the teacher with the mixed feelings of fear, respect and humour.

The poet gives an amusing sketch of the teacher’s character with a deep sympathy for him. He analyses of the nature and capability of the school master. The teacher was a taskmaster who took his students to task if they played truant. The poet, as a student, was very aware of this facet of the school master but he valued his stand and came to love and respect him. The harsh steps taken by the teacher had a soft and virtuous purpose behind them as he wished to see his pupils turn in to learned people.

The school master’s is recognized as a great scholarly person by the entire village and even the parson recognizes his skill in debate. The oratory of the teacher leaves the rustics gazing in admiration. The poem ends on a note of humour. The teacher is not to be taken as a sheer sardonic sketch. Besides, his academic affectations, he was remarkably kind and compassionate . The scowl on his face often masks a heart brimming with love and consideration. He has smattering of useful information which he puts to good use with the illiterate and ignorant villagers. Thus he creates a larger than life figure of himself before them. He has a view on every subject and loves to engage in debate above all with the village priest. He knows that in the eyes of the villagers the conclusion of the debate depends more on noise than on wisdom. Hence he keeps arguing even if he is defeated.

Goldsmith’s portrait of his former school master is a tour de force of depiction. He manages to make fun of the schoolmaster’s idiosyncrasies while maintaining reverence and admiration for him. The forte of the poem lies in the way in which Goldsmith has neither idealized nor trivialized the school master. On the other hand, the school master brush stroked to make him more humane.


Q (a) Describe the place where the schoolmaster taught his little school.

Ans:The school is situated in a village where there is a abundance of green bush .Bordered with an irregular fence stands a big building where his village master taught the little school.

Q (b) Explain straggling fence and unprofitably gay.

Ans:Straggling fence means irregular fence bordering the village school.It means uselessly bright this beauty served no purpose because there was body to admire it.

Q (c) Reference to the extract describe the schoolmaster .

Ans:The poet portraits disciplanarian. He was a man of stern appearance and every indisciplined student knew that they could not take liberties with him. Inspite of his strict exterior the school master was a hind man and had a love for knowledge and his pupils.

Q (d) Who laughed? Why did they laugh with counterfeited glee?

Ans:The indisciplined and idle student laughed with counterfeited glee . The master could tell many joked and even if the students did not feel like laughing at those jokes yet they pretended to be happy or merry to impress their teacher.

Q (e) Explain the line “The days disaster in his morning face.”

Ans:Day’s disaster means the misfortunes that were going to occur that day for the indisciplined students in the school .Morning face means expression seen on schoolmaster’s face in the morning.

Q (f) How did the people who laugh reacted when he frowned?

Ans: When truants and his other student found that the schoolmaster was not in the good mood,they would know before hand that day would bring disaster for them. The schoolmaster would punish them strictly for their little faults.

Q (a)The poet has earlier referred to the schoolmaster as stern and strict.What reason doer he attribute later for this?

Ans: Schoolmaster was a kind-hearted teacher. He used to act though so that his students could develop a love for learning and become responsible citizens.

Q (b) What opinion the villagers have of him?

Ans: The whole of the village was in awe of his knowledge and his ability to solve problems effortlessly.

Q (c) What different qualities did the schoolmaster has?

Ans: The village schoolmaster could easily measure distance ,area and volume. He could deliver the accurate meanings of various expressions and could also predict the seasons and the events of the future .Everyone acknowledge that he was good at debating because he had the shill to continue with his arguments when he had lost the debate.

Q (d) Elaborate on his argumentative shills.

Ans:The schoolmaster had a good argumentative skill and could continue with his arguments even when has lost the debate.The village loved to gather around him to listen his learned words that were uttered in a high pitched voice.

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