What is the substance of Oliver Goldsmith's poem, "The Village Schoolmaster"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "The Village Schoolmaster," Oliver Goldsmith (c.1728-1774) presents a vivid picture of a certain schoolmaster.  With each line, the reader peels away the layers of the schoolmaster's identity.  Once the setting is described in the first three lines, Goldsmith goes about discussing the character of the schoolmaster himself.  In his appearance, he is very severe and stern.  The reader would suppose him humorless, except that he likes to tell jokes.  When Goldsmith says "the boding tremblers learn'd to trace/The days disasters in his morning face," the reader comes to understand that the schoolmaster does not or cannot hold things back.  They are quite literally written on his face.  The fact that the students laugh at his jokes "with counterfeited glee" can also indicate the level of fear he inspired in his pupils.  The schoolmaster's learning is beyond question.  He can argue with the best of them, and those gathered around marveled at his learning.  The last two lines are quite revealing.  Up to that point, Goldsmith reveals the schoolmaster as a living being; in the last two lines, he indicates that the schoolmaster was no more.  All of his fame has gone and "the spot/Where many a time he triumph'd is forgot."  It is only in the last two lines where Goldsmith uses the present tense.  The shift in tense presents a somewhat unexpected result.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial