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Analysis and comments on In A Classroom by Adrienne Rich

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Comment 5 of 252, added on February 11th, 2012 at 6:27 PM.
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Comment 4 of 252, added on June 2nd, 2007 at 10:46 AM.

Adrienne Rich indirectly confronts in “In the Classroom” the age-old
struggle of the teacher of poetry to render somehow to a class of boring
and bored students the relevance of literature. Such a collision of
minds—one determined to inculcate the very cornerstone of Western thought
and many determined to resist this inculcation—insists that the attempt
cannot be a forced feeding. Rather, Rich posits an oblique method of
poetic pedagogy by a deliberate blurring of who is teaching and who is
learning.
Rich begins with the movie cliché stereotype of the bespectacled and
harried English teacher lugging an armful of books into her classroom:
“Talking of poetry, hauling the books / arm-full to the table.” The
reader of this poem as well as the students within the poem can almost hear
the plop of the books as they hit the teacher’s desk. This crash of books
merely reinforces in the minds of these students (and perhaps to the reader
of this poem as well) that poetry is not much more than some jumbled mess
of arcane terminology. Their “heads / bend or gaze upward, listening,
reading aloud, / talking of consonants, elision, / caught in the how,
oblivious of why.” Their minds are not a tabula rasa; rather they are
filled with a confusing and confused lump of terms that seem as unconnected
to each other as are the stars in the sky. But just as stars can seem to
have a harmony of order to the astute astronomer, so too can poetry possess
a similar harmony to the self-taught reader of poetry. And this, for Rich,
is the reason for the existence of the classroom teacher, which is only
partly to point out a corresponding existence of poetry but more
importantly to encourage students to see patterns in words, lines, and
images that make up what teachers like to call the “inner” meaning of a
poem.
The first five lines focus clearly on the reaction of the students to what
they undoubtedly see as yet another attempt by the teacher to drill into
their skulls some poetic mumbo-jumbo. They know they are supposed to learn
the techniques of poetry, but the “why” is an unspoken question. It is the
function of the teacher to supply this “why.” When Rich begins the next
five lines, she uses a deliberate clouding of subject and object to make
the reader (and perhaps the students within the poem) wonder who is doing
what and to whom.
“I look in your face, Jude,” seems pretty clear though. The teacher is
addressing a student Jude, but beginning with line six, Rich is ambiguous
about who is “neither frowning nor nodding, / opaque in the slant of dust
motes over the table.” If it is the teacher who is the subject, then this
teacher is purposefully donning a mask of professorial detachment. If it
is Jude, then Jude is simply continuing his façade of student detachment.
In either case, Jude and by extension the others present, will have failed
to achieve that sense of “getting the big picture” that the teacher wants
them to achieve. Rich continues to use a stone metaphor to close out the
poem: “a presence like a stone, if a stone were thinking / What I cannot
say, is to me. For that I came.” It is this coming to the table of
knowledge, with one seeking to impart wisdom and the other to assimilate it
that renders “In a Classroom” its enduring power to cause the reader to
inquire where in the universal scheme of things does this reader fit in.
And this Rich urges is the first step in seeing meaning in a constellation
of seemingly unconnected images.


Martin Asiner from United States
Comment 3 of 252, added on May 11th, 2007 at 2:10 PM.

it's really good

tiara from United States

This poem has been commented on more than 10 times. Click below to see the other comments.
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Information about In A Classroom

Poet: Adrienne Rich
Poem: In A Classroom
Added: Jan 31 2004
Viewed: 22394 times
Poem of the Day: Jun 28 2003


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