Last Lesson of the Afternoon is a poem written by D. H. Lawrence. In the poem, Lawrence expresses his personal viewpoint on modern school education through the attitude of the teacher and the indifferent and inattentive behaviour of students. Neither the teacher nor the students are clear about the goal of this system of education.
Summary and Analysis
Note that the first line of the poem indicates that the speaker is disillusioned with the system of school education which he is imparting to students. He is waiting impatiently for the bell to ring so that he can put an end to this weary process of teaching for the time being at least.
What about the students? They have been making violent efforts for a long time, rather struggling with their leash to get themselves freed from the controlling rope. The teacher describes them as ‘unruly hounds.’ Why? All that they are trained is to hunt the game of knowledge. Now in this situation of ‘weariness’ and ‘goallessness,’ the teacher feels that it is not possible for him to pull them again and urge them to start the hunting game of knowledge which they dislike particularly in this last class of the day. In other words, under the present system of school education, the teacher is compelled to load his students with some knowledge without any particular goal. Note the words ‘when’, ‘end’, ‘weariness’, ‘tugged’, ‘strained’, ‘hate’, ‘unruly’. Do they suggest the hopelessness of the situation and a mood of frustration on the part of the speaker?
The Teacher when he looks at the scores of exercise books lying on the desks meant for correction feels as if they sting him. They contain shoddy and careless work done indifferently by the students. The teacher feels insulted at seeing such exercise books. They are untidy and full of ink spread here and there. He is fed up with this kind of teaching. He feels it has done no good to them or to him. The teacher is disillusioned with this system of education.
It seems the kind of education that is imparted particularly at the primary level only aims at loading children with knowledge which they are incapable of assimilating or relating with practical life. In fact, nothing is done for the all-round development of the child.
Under the circumstance, the teacher debates in his mind whether he should put an end to this miserable situation or not? But how? There are conflicting thoughts about it. The teacher asks himself whether he should use up the last drop of his energy (or of his life) and combine it with the strength of his soul to stir up or ignite his will to a flame (here used as a metaphor for purification and cleansing) that shall destroy the impurities of their indifferent work. In other words, the teacher wonders whether he should use his energy and conscience to teach them to distinguish between good and bad, to enable them to develop their personality to grow mentally and spiritually and punish them when they do wrong in order to purify and cleanse them so that their character also can be developed and moulded in the right way. The sad thing is that this kind of teaching is not given importance in the modern system of school education and so, finally the teacher decides against taking such a step.
The teacher affirms that he is not going to waste his strength to mend the ways of his students under this faulty system of education. His teaching seems to have done no good to them. For the teacher, there is no satisfaction with the work done. Students too have not gained anything. The teacher is not going to bother about what students have missed or done wrongly. It is like fighting a losing battle where neither side gains anything. In other words, this type of teaching and this type of learning does no good to anyone. Both ultimately go down the same bottomless pit where no light penetrates. It is all useless the efforts of the teacher go waste. In short, this system of modern school education without any clear goal is a waste both to the teacher and the taught.
The teacher is being sarcastic about the students’ knowing only the routine thing of writing a description of a dog or any other animal. He feels even if he does not know this exercise of writing a description it does not matter. Why? To both parties, it is meaningless and equally irrelevant. However, knowing all these discrepancies in modern school education, the teacher is supposed to put a pretence of caring to teach with heart and soul in spite of the indifference and careless work of the students.
The teacher gives expression to his realisation in the last class of the afternoon that he will not go on with this pretension any longer. He says that he does not care and will not care. Students will not listen to him and do not listen to him and that is all.
It is with a sense of finality that the poet teacher expresses his point of view. The neatly balanced lines (25-26) show the poet’s firm resolve to follow a certain course of action.
So, in conclusion, the teacher says things will go as they are with indifference on both sides, of teaching and learning. No need for the teacher or student to waste energy and muster all resources under this faulty system of education. There is no use in fighting against the wall of indifference, mistrust, unconcern, callousness etc. It is better to wait for the bell to ring in the last class of the afternoon as it will be a release from the ‘weariness’ and ‘indifference’ of teaching and learning.