The speaker of this poem begins by describing the current appearance of a former schoolhouse. The fence is falling down, and the bushes are overgrown now, though the schoolhouse used to be like a "noisy mansion" where the schoolmaster would "rule." He was "severe" and "stern" and dished out punishments to any students who were truant and failed to report for classes each day. In fact, his students could look at the schoolmaster's "morning face" and know what kind of day they were to have based on his mood. They would laugh, feigning amusement at his jokes in order to keep him in a good mood and warn one another when he "frown'd."
He could be kind, however, and he clearly loved to learn. He was known to be very smart, and all the "village [...] declar'd how much he knew"; he could read, write, do math, measure property, and predict the weather and tides with accuracy. The schoolmaster was also adept in argumentation, and even the "parson" had to admit to the schoolmaster's "skill." The teacher would amaze the "gazing rustics" of the village with his vocabulary and passion while he argued. The villagers could not seem to understand how "one small head could carry all he knew." He seemed to know so much about so many subjects that he would amaze the farmers. However, all of the village schoolmaster's fame is now in the past, and the place where he held sway has been forgotten.