Within ‘First Day At School,’ the poet makes use of language in interesting ways. This includes misspellings and misunderstandings of what words mean. For example, what a teacher is and what a “lessin” is. This makes ‘First Day At School’ quite lighthearted but not so much to where the reader is encouraged to make fun of the child. He’s going through something everyone has. Everyone has felt as confused and concerned as the young speaker is.
Explore First Day At School
”]‘First Day At School’ by Roger McGough is about a child’s experiences on their first day of school.
The poem starts with the child speaking hyperbolically about how long they’ve been at school and how far from home they are. The child also emphasizes the size of other children, those who are older and have a better understanding of their environment. The speaker wants to be part of their games but doesn’t know how. They also admit, through the misuse of words, that they have a lot to learn about what school is.
You can read the full poem here.
Throughout this poem, the poet engages with themes of fitting in and new experiences. The speaker goes through a great deal on his first day of school. He’s baffled by all the things he sees and the people he meets. The child wants to make friends but doesn’t know how to fit in with the older kids, who seem so much bigger. Readers should also consider the new perspectives this poem gives them.
Structure and Form
‘First Day At School’ by Roger McGough is a four-stanza poem that is separated into uneven stanzas. The first is nine lines long, the second is ten, the third is only one line long, and the fourth is seven lines. The poet chose to write this poem in free verse. This means that the poem does not conform to a specific metrical pattern or rhyme scheme. The lines vary in length, from around four lines to over ten. Readers should take note of a few examples of exact rhyme in the poem. This occurs when the same word ends multiple lines. For example, “games” at the ends of lines seven and eight of stanza one. There are also a few examples of perfect rhymes, like “me” and “tea” at the ends of lines six and seven of the final stanza.
Throughout this poem, McGough makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Epistrophe: occurs when the poet uses the same word or words at the ends of multiple lines. For example, “railings” and the ends of lines one and two of the second stanza.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause in the middle of lines. For example, “Waiting for the bell to go. (To go where?)” and “Whole rooms made out of glass. Imagine.”
- Repetition: can be seen through the use and reuse of the same sounds, words, phrases, or images. For example, “lessin” in stanza two and the poet’s use of questions.
- Alliteration: seen through the poet’s use of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “lived” and “lives” in line six of the first stanza and “Sounds small” and “slimy” in the second to last line of the second stanza.
A millionbillionwillion miles from home
Waiting for the bell to go. (To go where?)
Why are they all so big, other children?
That don’t let me in. Games
That are rough, that swallow you up.
In the first stanza, the poet begins with a nonsense word, “millionbillionwillion.” With this word and the following lines, it becomes clear that the speaker of this piece is a young child. They’re new to the world of attending school and have a hard time understanding distances, time, and what the other children are like. They are “all so big, other children,” the small youthful speaker states. They are “So much at home.” This reveals that the speaker feels uncomfortable in school, in their uniform, and following the traditions of the schoolyard. They don’t know how to make up games, nor are they let in on games already in progress.
Due to the fractured syntax of these lines, they can be hard to understand. The speaker does not speak in complete sentences, nor do they clearly connect one sentence to the next. This requires a little interpretation on the reader’s part. But, once one understands that the speaker is a child, it makes reading the poem easier.
And the railings.
All around, the railings.
Are they to keep out wolves and monsters?
They keep them in the glassrooms.
In the second stanza, the young speaker asks several questions. This is a classic feature of confused, youthful characters. Children love to ask questions, and this child is no exception. Their questions are only heightened due to the fact that they are in an unusual position and are confused by what they’re seeing. For example, the child wonders about the “railings” that surround the schoolyard. Because the child doesn’t have any experience at schools, they start to fantasize about what they could be for, like keeping out wolves.
The child makes their inexperience with school all the clearer through their use of the word “lessin.” Here, with the miss-spelling and misuse within a sentence, the child reveals that they don’t understand the principles of education. A “lessin” is something intangible to them. The same occurs with the word “glassrooms.”
Stanzas Three and Four
Whole rooms made out of glass. Imagine.
I wish I could remember my name
Tea-cher. The one who makes the tea.
The third stanza is a play on the child’s misunderstanding of “classroom.” They think the word is “glassroom” and get distracted imagining a room entirely made of glass.
The fourth stanza picks up with more funny lines and references to what a child’s first day of school would be like. Their name is sewn into the boots, thankfully, as they admit to having forgotten it. Perhaps because they’re so overwhelmed. The final line is a play on the word “teacher.” They take it to mean someone who makes tea. This humorous misunderstanding alludes to how far the student has to go in their education. They are going to learn a lot in their first days of school.
It’s unclear when McGough wrote ‘First Day At School.’ He likely wrote it sometime in the late 1900s.
The speaker of ‘First Day At School’ is a young child, around six or seven years old. They’re attending their first day of school. It’s not clear if the speaker is a young boy or a young girl. But they are nervous and uncertain about their new world.
The tone is confused and curious. The speaker goes back and forth between being worried about their situation and thinking that it’s interesting. They ask questions and come to their own conclusions, ones that are mostly wrong.
Roger McGough wrote this poem in order to explore a young child’s perspective. It also allows readers to look at something common, going to school, with fresh eyes. It’s a way of reanalyzing traditions of education that seem normal.
Readers who enjoyed ‘First Day At School’ should also consider reading other poetry by Roger McGough. For example:
- ‘The Trouble With Snowmen’ – describes life and death through the unchanging symbol of a cement snowman.
Other related poems include:
- ‘The Laughter of Stafford Girls’ High’ by Carol Ann Duffy – traces the developing wave of laughter. Duffy represents how female voices can lift each other up and lead to liberation. Read more Carol Ann Duffy poems.
- ‘An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum’ by Stephen Spender – is a poem about the condition of elementary schools situated in slums. Read more Stephen Spender poems.