Talking of poetry, hauling the books
arm-full to the table where the heads
bend or gaze upward, listening, reading aloud,
talking of consonants, elision,
caught in the how, oblivious of why:
I look in your face, Jude,
neither frowning nor nodding,
opaque in the slant of dust-motes over the table:
a presence like a stone, if a stone were thinking
What I cannot say, is me. For that I came.
IF I were in an English class, I would ask students to see the poem as a skit and invite them to turn the poem into a skit to perform
with characters, props, blocking and set. To accomplish this, students would need to do a lot of thinking and analysis. I would be curious to see who they would portray the teacher and students and action in the poem. This could be a fun approach to this clever, clever poem.
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.
it’s really good
This poem is amazing makes me feel like I”m right there in my english 3 class listening to my teacher and learning about the wonders of poetry
this poem is a good poem it gets you in the mind of how the students are thinking and how they look when theny are studying
i realy injoyed it