Within ‘Classroom’ Calder makes use of metaphor and personification in order to speak on the emotional qualities of classrooms and the imprint students leave behind on them. The poet delves into the themes of loneliness, community, education, and memory.
The poem begins with the speaker comparing classrooms to pets. They each have different personalities that develop over time. The classes hang on to the memories of the students who spent their time there. Their marks are left on the space in such a way the cleaners have no hope of removing them.
In the last lines, Calder speaks on the desolation of these spaces when there are no students present, whether over a weekend or over a holiday break. The rooms forget their purpose and lose sight of “who” they are.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Classroom’ by Dave Calder is a three-stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The first stanza contains six lines, the second: ten and the third: eleven. Calder does not make use of a specific rhyme scheme but there are instances of half-rhyme, as well as internal full rhyme, as seen through the repetition of specific end sounds.
Half rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, “sunny” and “gloomy” in the second line of the first stanza and “calmly,” “seems,” and “sleep” in lines eight and nine of the third stanza.
Internal rhyme is also present in the poem. Unlike end rhyme, it is not constrained to the end of the lines but can appear anywhere within the text. With the use of repetition in ‘Classroom’, there are examples of internal rhyme in line one of the second stanza, as well as line seven of the second stanza.
Another element of ‘Classroom’ a reader should note is the use, or lack thereof, of punctuation and capitalization. When glancing at the text, this choice makes the poem feel informal. There are no complete sentences and almost every line is enjambed, taking the reader quickly through the text. It also adds to one of the larger themes of the poem, emptiness/loneliness. The classroom, as depicted later on in the text, is without students. It is vacant, without purpose, and somewhat listless. The text mirrors this in its lack of structure.
Calder makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Classroom’. These include alliteration, enjambment, metaphor, and personification. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “classrooms” and “creatures” in the first line and “weekend” and “worse” in line six of the third stanza.
Metaphor, or a comparison between two, unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. In ‘Classroom’ Calder uses this technique in order to compare classrooms to “a kind of pet”. It plays into the next technique, personification, which occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. In the last lines of the poem the speaker says that the classroom “seems in a troubled sleep, a fretful hibernation”.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are examples throughout the text, all of which benefit from the general lack of punctuation and capitalization. For example, the transition between lines eight and nine of the second stanza and lines ten and eleven of the third stanza.
Analysis of Classroom
classrooms are creatures
that makes the difference in how they feel
In the first lines of ‘Classroom’, the speaker begins by using a metaphor to say that classrooms are a “kind of pet”. They each have different personalities, as animals do. For example, he continues, some are “sunny” while others are a “bit gloomy”. He is speaking on the atmosphere of the rooms which can be influenced by any number of factors.
No matter what this atmosphere is though, he continues, it only matters how “we,” those who work and learn in then, “look after them”. Utilizing personification, the speaker determines that the classrooms are able to feel and that “we” are able to influence their mood.
day after day, week after week
the touch of our hands, elbows, feet
The second stanza begins with the line “day after day, week after week”. Here, the speaker is alluding to the progression of time and how classrooms and students grow familiar with one another. “We,” he says, “leave the print of our presence” on the room without having to scratch it into the wood of the desks. It is able, simply through its nature, to “absorb / the touch of…hands, elbows, feet”. The sixth line is very skillfully enjambed, taking the reader into the seventh where they are met with the concept of fear.
the smell of our fear, the sound of our laughter
built up class after class year after year
Fear is present in the room, alongside “laughter”. The juxtaposition of these emotions reminds a reader of the topsy turvy nature of youth and the power classroom environments to have on influencing the learning process. The marks that students leave on these rooms are deeper than anything the clearers can remove. They are “ghost stains” of developing personalities and lives and gather “year after year” as one class moves out and another takes its place.
it is because of this
left in a car or tied outside a shop –
In the final stanza of ‘Classroom,’ the speaker picks right back up where he left off. He says that “because of” the way students leave heir mark on rooms when there is no one physically present then it is “emptier than other empty rooms”. The space has known such a wide variety of emotions and absorbed the presence of so many developing lives, that when no one is there it is lonely and listless.
Using another metaphor, which is really a continuation of the one he started in line one, the speaker says that the classroom waits for students to return like a “sad uncertain” dog waiting for its master. He presents the image of a dog left “in a car or tied outside a shop”.
when we go in at a weekend or worse on holidays
has forgotton who it is without its children
In the final six lines, the speaker adds that this mood falls over the room when “we” go on holiday and “the chairs stand on the desks”. This is a symbol of desolation the room feels and the temporary, yet permanent seeming, emptiness of the space.
The “dust” is able to rest without concern for the cleaners and the room sleeps, but not well. It is “troubled” and “fretful” in its hibernation. In the last lines, the very human nature of the space is reiterated. It is losing its purpose and forgets who it is “without its children”.