Poetry Study Aid : The Village School Master

Oliver Gold Smith
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.