Throughout the poem ‘In Mrs Tilscher’s Class’ by Carol Ann Duffy, the themes of innocence, happiness and fragility in childhood overlap with those of confusion, growing up and the threats of adult knowledge. The poem evokes feelings of nostalgia through its use of language and presents the classroom as a sanctuary. It is set out in four stanzas, the first two consisting of eight lines and the last two of seven.
This change in form could be representative of the changes that children undergo when they grow up. However, the change is only subtle suggesting the changes those children will experience will be unobvious, small and on-going. The sentence length and and structures vary throughout the poem. For example in the first stanza, the enjambment of the first three lines is broken up by the short chanted countries. ‘Tama. Ethiopia. Khartoum. Aswan.’
This changing, unsettled rhythm could present the safety of the classroom sanctuary being challenged by the doubt and uncertainty of the future, as the sentence is relaxed and smoothly flowing, before it is quickly cut off. The first two stanzas reflect on feelings on happiness and excitement in childhood through the use of language. Phrases such as ‘the laugh of a bell’ and ‘the classroom glowed like a sweetshop’ evoke feelings of freedom and elation. However, the underlying threats of the adult world are still present in this stanza and throughout the rest of the poem, contrasting with the safety of the classroom and the joys of childhood.
The juxtaposition of ‘Coloured shapes.’ and ‘Brady and Hindley.’ in stanza two, is an example of this and emphasizes the innocence and vulnerability of the children. As the poem progresses, there are more references to growing up and changes. The third stanza opens with the line ‘Over the Easter term, the inky tadpoles changed from commas into exclamation marks’. This sets the mood for the rest of the poem as it indicates the start of imminent change. The use of ‘exclamation marks’ implies that growing up is full of surprise and danger. As the stanza draws to a close, a growing sexual awareness is presented. ‘A rough boy told you how your parents were born. You kicked him, but stared at your parents appalled when you got back home.’ Themes of violence and sex have both been introduced here, and the innocence of childhood fades out.
The language becomes increasingly sensuous with the use of ‘hot’ ‘untidy’ and ‘heavy sexy sky’. The ‘hot’ and ‘untidy’ suggest feelings of discomfort within the children as they begin to experience puberty and growing up. The poem ends with use of pathetic fallacy. ‘as the sky split open into a thunderstorm’. This metaphor symbolises childhood coming to an end, and a start in dangerous, unpredictable and unsettling world outside the classroom.