Carol Ann Duffy - Childhood and Youth

Carol Ann Duffy has portrayed her views on childhood and youth in various ways in the three poems, “Mrs Tilscher’s Class, “Education for Leisure” and “Comprehensive” Duffy has written about her own personal experiences but has inverted the poems to address the audience as many readers from the same decade would have experienced the same scenarios as Duffy depicts in her poems, this is particularly true in the poem “Mrs Tilscher’s Class”. In Mrs Tilscher’s Class Duffy presents childhood an innocent stage of a person’s life where they are engrossed in this metaphorical “perfect” world within the classroom, away from the dangerous outside world.

The child is on a journey to knowledge in the last year of primary school and becomes more experienced, and developed through this discovery. The theme of wanting something from life is carried on with “Education for Leisure” where a young person, most likely a teenager is desperate to be recognised, “I have had enough of being ignored”.

The teenager wants to be noticed and have an impact at school, as presently he is going through the education system with no feeling or desire to achieve anything.

In this poem childhood is presented as an isolation from the rest of society, the teenagers are driven to almost kill or carry out violence to be noticed, which tells us that this stage of their lives where difficult as they feel they have no purpose or meaning. In “Education for Leisure” it is clear that the teenager’s education is not doing him any good, as he has not been able to find work as he is on the dole, and not working, nor has it helped him to control his boredom or frustration.

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I squash a fly against the window with my thumb. ” This is reflected in “Mrs Tilscher’s Class” where the primary school children are bored of the primary school, and are curious to know more about the world, e. g “how they were born. ” This shows that the school system in the 20th century did not satisfy the needs of children and have led them into the world without the experience and knowledge they needed. In the poem “Comprehensive” Duffy presents the division between the “white” children and the immigrant children.

There is a significant difference between the attitude of the two different groups, which shows the immigrants wanting to be able to learn and do something with their lives, yet the British children are more resentful and have fewer goals and ambitions. The poem shows a sense of diversity in the school but no community spirit or emphasis on learning in place; this may be the cause of uneducated children such as the teenager in “Education for Leisure” who feel they are being failed by schools. The poem “In Mrs Tilscher’s Class” is autobiographical and explains Duffys own personal experiences during her time at primary school.

The theme of the poem shows the development from innocence at primary school to understanding and knowledge in the wider world. This transition is also shown in the physical form of a young child to adolescence. Duffy portrays primary school as a “safe” haven and when the child becomes more aware of their surroundings they begin to take that metaphorical journey to knowledge however the teacher, or in the case of Carol Ann Duffy “Mrs Tilscher” does not help them to take that step, they must move on by themselves.

Leaving primary school for the last time is like an escape that children are eager to make but which takes them from the safety of the classroom into a dangerous unknown world “you ran through the gates, as the sky spilt up into a thunderstorm”. A thunderstorm could metaphorically represent the threat this would poses on these innocent children who are inexperienced and not prepared for real life.

As the poem progresses the child becomes more inquisitive and starts to grow up, this is reflected by the humid weather, “that feverish July” and the ill feeling a person feels in the hot weather, “untidy hot, fractious under the heavy sexy sky” is associated with the physical changes as a child goes through the stage of becoming an adolescence. This poem is similar to “Comprehensive” as it is set in another school, this time in a secondary school and Duffy represents the feelings of children from different cultures in separate monologues.

In Comprehensive Duffy describes the segregation between different ethnic minorities within a non-selective comprehensive school. The reality of a Comprehensive school is highlighted in this poem and there is a contrast between the views of English students and those from different backgrounds. The white children are ones with less ambition in life, but have bitter resentment against the immigrant children, Whereas the other children want to seek the opportunity and wasn’t to succeed and have a positive outlook, “I have hope and am ambitious”.

Yet the reality when they arrive is very different and they realise life is not any better in the UK, than back home. Education for Leisure is a dramatic monologue and shows one youth’s feelings towards life. The poem describes the thoughts and feelings of this disturbed youth who feels undervalued and convinces himself that it is necessary to carry out violence so he will be noticed. The poem shows two sides to this youth, one that he is a creative genius, but the other that he believes no-one appreciates his feelings and talent. They don’t appreciate my autograph”. So to try and erase this lack of distinction he decides that it would be clever to kill. He connects “changing something’s world” with his genius, implying that he is going to kill. In terms of language features in “Mrs Tilschers Class” poem, Duffy uses the second person pronoun “you” to address the reader. The poem is about her own experience in Mrs Tilscher’s Class but writing in the second person she is targeting the audience and calls upon us to share her experience.

This same pronoun is again utilised in the poem “Education for Leisure”, in the final line where the teenager reaches out “to touch our arm”. Duffy has created an atmosphere of fear as it the first time in the poem that the child has contact of with a human, and as a reader Duffy is trying to show that the child has potential to harm us. The use of pronouns is essential to this poem and there is a noticeable reputation of the phrase “I’m going to” is effective in the way that it shows the determination of the youth, and his desire to make a difference.

In “Comprehensive” Duffy uses an interesting range of pronouns, for example when each speaker is talking about their experience they refer to the children from other backgrounds as “them” or “they” rather than their names, “they’re different from us, showing they are lacking importance and are just branded as another class people also the reader does not know who “they or “them” is so will interpret it as they wish. Many metaphors are used in the poem “In Mrs Tilschers Class”, particularly in the last stanza where there is an essence of time moving on and the child growing up quickly.

At the beginning of the last stanza when Duffy refers to “feverish” July it is the child who is feverish and anxious to find out more about the world, especially “how you were born”. Then the reports are handed out, almost as if these are the end to primary school, an end to childhood for Carol Duffy and then the thunderstorm breaks, which is a metaphor for freedom. “As the sky spilt open into a thunderstorm” The newly created adolescence is now able to explore the world, with a changed attitude and perspective on life.

In the beginning of the poem Duffy creates a strong image of a primary school classroom with the children tracing the route with their fingers on a map, “You could travel up the blue Nile with your finger tracing the route” then after an hour comes a bottle of milk which was a popular tradition in the 1960’s. The window pole and the handbell are also familiar objects. The simile, “The laugh of a bell swung by a running child” echoes the vigorous ringing of the bell after lessons had ended.

Another simile used is “the classroom glowed like a sweet shop” which signifies that the classroom is really where the child wants to be, as it is full of bright attractive colours and has the same qualities as a popular sweetshop. The language Duffy uses in both “Comprehensive”, “In Mrs Tilscher class” as well as “Education for Leisure is basic English, to represent a child’s perspective for example “I see that it is good”. Both poems also use natural speech in the first person, to show the direct experiences of real- life children.

The language spoken in “Comprehensive” varies with each of the seven accounts, because each of the students is from another multi-cultural background they have a different way of speaking, for example the African girl talks very monosyllabic and simple English, similar to the Ejaz the Asian boy, suggesting that English is their second language. Wayne, who is British, speaks is again speaking in very simplistic yet with a colloquial dialect.

His single word sentences show a lack of effort to communicate and his pessimistic attitude. Wayne. Fourteen. Gamers are for Kids. ” Finally the last Asian girl proves to speak the most fluent and well structured English with the use of vocabulary such as “ambitious”, this implies she is from a well educated background. So overall all the language used in the poem is different dependant on the origin of the speaker. In “Education for Leisure” there is a constant reference to identity, with many of the sentences beginning with the pronoun “I”. “I am a genius” and “I am going to change the world”.

The short sentence structure gives a sense of simple declarations of what the teenager intends to carry out and gives an abrupt tone to the poem. Duffy shows the speakers lack of interest at school through Shakespeare, he thinks that Shakespeare is a foreign language and also now the fly which he kills is also in “another language”, or a language that he does not understand. Yet the speaker contrasts this confusion with his obnoxious attitude that “he is a genius. ” Duffy foregrounds the world “I” to the front of the sentence to show the speakers motives.

The speaker also uses many ordinary every day objects in a menacing way such as a “bread-knife” and “goldfish”, the emotive language is portrayed in his intention of killing in the last two sentences. “In Mrs Tilscher’s Class” is structured with two stanzas of eight lines and two stanza’s of even lines. The poem has no rhyming pattern or rhythm. But is set in two very definite halves, the security of childhood in the classroom defines the first half and the great outdoors with tadpoles and the playground shows the movement to knowledge and discovering more beyond the safety of the classroom.

Similar to Mrs “Tilscher’s Class”, the poem “Comprehensive” has not set rhythm or rhythm; it is structured in seven stanzas of different length to show a conversational structure. The poem “Education for Leisure” is in five stanzas, each of four lines. They do not rhyme with any specific beat or rhythm. The lines are mostly end stopped, and every stanza finishes with a full stop, which is effective as it signals a dramatic stop to each stanza, which makes the reader think about his actions.

In Conclusion all three poems are different, because “Mrs Tilscher’s Class” shows the innocence of childhood but “Comprehensive” shows the outcome of when these primary school children develop into teenagers, and the harsh reality of a Secondary School. The message that Duffy is trying to portray is that despite the stereotypical image of teenagers who don’t care about their future or have no sense of ambition there are still children from across the globe who want to succeed in their life and desperately want the opportunity to do well.

This shows the segregation between the “whites” and those from other backgrounds. Yet in Primary School, the atmosphere is different and all children are inexperienced and are yet not aware of the wider world, therefore all children desire to seek knowledge and there is a huge divide between the willingness to learn from when a child is a young age compared to when they reach adolescence. “Education for Leisure” demonstrates the unhappiness of many teenagers, who feel they are not recognised, and noticed enough, driving them to violence through sheer boredom and frustration.

In Comprehensive, Duffy does not show any sense of what school is about or the learning aspect of school; instead the attention is focused on the collection of diverse teenagers with their own problems. These problems affect life inside the classroom as well as outside the classroom and the less education a child receives the more troubled they will become in later life as demonstrated in “Education for Leisure” Overall we can learn that 20th century youth were a mixture of different backgrounds with many different outlooks on life.

Compared to present day where many teenagers of different backgrounds mix freely the 20th century seemed to have a division between these various cultures, and Duffy offered a negative view of “White” British children by portraying them as racist, which indicates there was more violence and tension between the immigrant and the British children.

Childhood and Youth can be a pleasant time for those who have the desire to do well and share the same eagerness as they do in primary school, but can also be a lonely time for those who have a powerful sense of their own importance and insignificance of others, and a greater sense of grievance that no one else notices them and they are undervalued.

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Carol Ann Duffy - Childhood and Youth. (2017, Sep 23). Retrieved from

Carol Ann Duffy - Childhood and Youth
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