Allan Ahlberg

Please Mrs. Butler by Allan Ahlberg

‘Please Mrs. Butler’ by Allan Ahlberg is a children’s poem that conveys a frustrating and purposeless conversation between a student and their teacher. 

The poem is written in very simple language that is easily understood by readers of all ages. It was written by a British poet, meaning that there are some examples of British slang (like “rubber” rather than “eraser”) that may need to be explained to young readers from the United States or other countries. 

Please Mrs. Butler by Allan Ahlberg


Summary 

‘Please Mrs. Butler’ by Allan Ahlberg is a simple and amusing children’s poem. 

The poem is divided into three parts. The first contains a young student’s plea for her teacher to stop one of their fellow students from copying their work. Rather than provide a solution, the teacher dismisses the issue and tries to get the student to solve it themselves. Throughout, the poet uses amusing and outrageous language that is meant to entertain, especially in the teacher’s rather outlandish suggestions.

The third part of the poem progresses in the same way, with the final issue being raised in the fifth stanza and amusingly dismissed in the sixth.

You can read the full poem here

Theme

There are a few different themes that one might interpret from this poem. One of the primary options is self-reliance. The teacher is unwilling to provide the student with the answers they are looking for. Instead, they are forced, in theory, to solve their own problems.

Structure and Form 

‘Please Mrs. Butler’ by Allan Ahlberg is a six-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABCB; changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. It’s also worth noting that all the odd-numbered stanzas and even-numbered stanzas follow a simple line structure. This helps keep up a steady rhythm and makes sure that the three parts of the poem are very easily distinguished from one another. 

Literary Devices 

The poet uses a few literary devices in this poem. They include: 

  • Anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “Go and sit” in stanza two. 
  • Parallelism: the use of the same line structure. For example, likes one and two of stanza two as well as the structures of all the odd-numbered stanzas. 
  • Alliteration: a common literary device in children’s poetry. It’s seen through the repetition of consonant sounds, like “Derek Drew.” 
  • Hyperbole: an intentional exaggeration that’s meant to entertain or emphasize a certain point. For example, “Take your books on the roof.” 


Detailed Analysis 

Stanzas One and Two

Please Mrs Butler
This boy Derek Drew
Keeps copying my work, Miss.
What shall I do?

Go and sit in the hall, dear.
Go and sit in the sink.
Take your books on the roof, my lamb.
Do whatever you think.

In the first lines of this poem, the speaker, a young student, begins by asking their teacher what to do about a boy copying their school work. Because the child says “This boy” when referring to “Derek Drew,” it seems like the speaker is a young girl. 

The young speaker uses polite and formal language, but the lines also convey the speaker’s age. It seems likely that they are around 10 or so years old. The fact that they need to ask their teacher what to do suggests that they’re quite young but old enough to know that everyone is supposed to do their own work. 

The teacher has a surprising answer. Readers are likely expecting to hear the teacher chastise the child, Derek, and possibly praise the young speaker for doing what’s right. But, the teacher does something very different. Using anaphora, the poet describes the teacher telling her student to “sit in the hall” or “sit in the sink.” 

She doesn’t have a suggestion; instead, she provides these humorous and desperate-sounding ideas. The student should do whatever they think, including, but not limited to, going to the roof with their books.

After this, the teacher refers to the student as “my lamb.” This is no doubt meant as a term of endearment, but it also comes across as patronizing and dismissive. It’s clear the teacher doesn’t want to spend any time on this issue. 

Stanzas Three and Four

Please Mrs Butler

This boy Derek Drew

(…)

Do what you think best.

The speaker continues, complaining again to Mrs. Butler about Derek Drew. The young speaker tells her teacher that the boy is taking her rubber or eraser, and she wants him to stop. The third stanza follows a very similar structure to the first. Then, the fourth stanza conveys the same dismissive attitude readers saw from the teacher in the second stanza.

The teacher tells them to keep the eraser in their hand or hide it in their jacket. There are plenty of ways they could prevent the other student from taking it from them if they just take the initiative. Again, the teacher’s dismissive tone comes through very clearly.

Stanzas Five and Six 

Please Mrs Butler

(…)

Do whatever you can, my flower.

But don’t ask me!

The final two stanzas convey a final complaint from the student about their classmate. They tell the teacher that Derek is calling them “rude names.” The teacher replies in her characteristic way, telling the student to take care of the problem themselves. The teacher offers strange and clearly hyperbolic solutions, like the student locking themselves in the cupboard or joining a ship and sailing away. They should just stop asking the teacher for help, the poem suggests. 

The lines conclude with, “But don’t ask me!” Although the teacher is the only one who has the power to do anything about these minor inconveniences, she is not willing to. This is clearly quite frustrating for the student but, very likely, not nearly as frustrating as being constantly barraged by questions and issues is for the teacher. 

FAQs 

What is the meaning of ‘Please Mrs. Butler?’ 

The meaning is that it’s not only students who get frustrated in class—teachers do too. The poet uses entertaining and simple-to-read language to describe a very unproductive conversation between a student and a teacher. 

What is the theme of ‘Please Mrs. Butler?’

The theme is self-reliance. The teacher continually turns the problem back to the student, forcing them (if they can) to find solutions to their issues on their own. 

What kind of poem is ‘Please Mrs. Butler?’

This is a children’s poem that is divided into six stanzas of four lines each. The poem follows the rhyme scheme of ABCB and uses a similar structure in the odd and even-numbered stanzas

What is ‘Please Mrs. Butler’ about?

The poem is about a student asking the teacher for help with minor inconveniences in the classroom. Rather than helping, the teacher expresses her irritation and frustration with having to always be the one to fix these relatively insignificant issues.


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example: 

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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