‘School’s Out‘ focuses on the early days of the pandemic as school events, and then the school itself was canceled. The poet uses several examples of figurative language, like similes and metaphors, to depict the experience of missing out on these critical life experiences.
This poem was published in 2021 in Amanda Gorman’s collection, Call Us What We Carry. It, like other poems in the collection, explores the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and takes a hopeful tone in regard to what can come from so much loss.
Explore School’s Out
‘School’s Out’ by Amanda Gorman references the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on the experiences around March 2020 and how the pandemic affected graduating students.
The poem is direct in its references to the pandemic. In the first lines, the poet sets the scene and informs the reader what time period she’s talking about. School was being canceled in March 2020, and students are being told to leave their campuses around the country and the rest of the world. They are missing out on important life experiences, like graduation, but they don’t let that fact ruin the year for them. Instead of mourning what they’ve lost, they choose to “dance.”
Campus as soon as possible.
In the first stanza of ‘School’s Out,’ the speaker begins by using the line “The announcement.” This is a striking way to start a poem, especially as it is followed by “Swung blunt as an axe-blow.” Gorman then references students being asked to leave their various campuses around the country. For anyone who lived through the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, this is a clear allusion to March of that year when it was deemed too dangerous for students, from elementary through college, to remain at school.
In this stanza, readers can see examples of enjambment. The poet cuts off lines before their natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two and three and four. This helps carry the reader into the next line quickly.
We think we cried,
Our brains bleached blank.
In the second stanza, which can also be considered part one of a longer stanza (connected to stanza three), the speaker describes looking back on that time in March when school was canceled. There were tears, she thought, but she wasn’t sure. The words “bleached blank” are a great example of Gorman’s skillful use of alliteration. The choice of “bleach” is also a reference to how much cleaning everyone was doing at this time. Bleach was something that was used on multiple different surfaces.
As the students left school, the speaker notes, they were already “trying to forget” everything they were going to miss out on. They were not going to have the experiences that they wanted to have.
Beware the ides of March.
Like spillage in a napkin.
The poet alludes to the “ides of March” in the next lines. This refers to the date of March 15th, connected to Julius Caesar’s assassination, and around the period of time that most schools were let out. The students knew before the schools were canceled that there was something going on. Rumors ran from person to person as the cases of COVID-19 came closer and closer, state by state and person by person.
The poet uses a simile to compare this “bleeding” of cases to the “spillage in a napkin.”
There’s nothing more worrisome
The fourth stanza is only three lines long. Here, the poet refers to a “titan who believes itself / Separate from the world.” It’s unclear exactly what Gorman was thinking about in these lines. Perhaps, she was considering COVID itself, or maybe she was thinking about the leadership in the United States at the time. Politics are within the realm of her subject matter, so that latter interpretation is not without justification.
We don’t need a gown.
& still choosing to dance.
In the final stanza, the speaker notes things that the students lost, including the gowns for graduation and a stage. Many ceremonies around the country took place online, meaning that much of what is normally associated with graduation wasn’t needed.
Despite this, the young people of the world were not deterred. They felt the power of their family members, those lost and those present. There is a power in these final lines. It is expressed through the drums and feet stomping. It suggests that despite everything that the young of America, and the rest of the world, had to give up, they persevered. There is a “power in being robbed” of what one deserved in life and “still choosing to dance.” These young people lost out on significant moments in their lives and still chose “to dance” and celebrate their lives.
The poem ends on this optimistic note, overshadowing the alluded darkness in the rest of the lines.
Structure and Form
‘School’s Out’ by Amanda Gorman is a five-stanza poem that is divided into uneven sets of lines. The first stanza has four lines, the second: five, the third: six, the fourth: four, and the fifth: nine. The poem is written in free verse. This means that the lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Despite this, Gorman does make use of several different examples of rhyme.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two in the first stanza as well as lines two and three in the third stanza.
- Allusion: occurs when the poet references something that is outside the scope of the poem. For example, Gorman uses the famous phrase “Beware the ides of March” in the third stanza. This is an allusion to the assassination of Julius Caesar. The date if references is March 15th. This connects to the time of year that schools let students out during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. These should trigger the reader’s senses. For example, “Their drums roar for us, / Their feet stomp at our life.”
The purpose is to describe the mindset and experience of the young people who had important moments in their lives, like graduation, canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic. The poem captures the emotion of the moment.
The themes at work in this poem are perseverance and strength as well as accepting that which one cannot change. Life was altered during the pandemic, and for the young people of the world, it came with losses. They chose to “dance” rather than mourn being robbed of life experiences.
There are allusions to COVID-19 in the poem as well as to Julius Caesar, through the “ides of March” reference. These references are fairly easy to understand and spot.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other Amanda Gorman poems. For example:
- ‘The Hill We Climb’ – a moving depiction of the United States as it was on the cusp of President Biden’s inauguration in 2021.
- ‘Chorus of the Captains’ – an occasional poem written for and performed at the 52nd Super Bowl. It describes the work of three American heroes in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- ‘In This Place (An American Lyric)’ – a moving poem about American life and the tragedies, acts of bravery, and hope that shape the nation.
Other related poems include:
- ‘America’ by Allen Ginsberg—depicts the poet’s own disappointment with the social and political situation of America at the time this poem was written.
- ‘Long, too long America’by Walt Whitman— an early Civil War poem in which Whitman supports constitutional democracy.
- ‘Let America Be America Again’ by Langston Hughes—focuses on the American dream and what it means. As well as how hard it is to acquire.