What is a summary of the poem "The Last Lesson of the Afternoon" by D.H. Lawrence?

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poem "The Last Lesson of the Afternoon" by D.H. Lawrence is about a teacher who is second-guessing his life’s work as an instructor to various students. In this six stanza poem, the poet begins by saying that the teacher is waiting for the bell to ring so that his last class and teaching lesson of the afternoon can end. It is apparent that the teacher is tired as the first line of the poem states:

“When will the bell ring, and end this weariness?”

Right away the reader knows that all is not well in this formal classroom. This teacher feels that his students are akin to a “pack of unruly hounds”. He does not want to expend any more time and energy dispensing knowledge to this group who has no interest in really pursuing knowledge. The teacher is frustrated in this poem and feels like he could do better directing his talents elsewhere - to those who have a deep interest in knowledge acquisition.

There are indications in the poem that this teacher has been involved in teaching for many years – probably decades. He says:

“So, shall I take

My last dear fuel of life to heap on my soul”

He is weary and says, in so many words, that he can no longer stand to look at school desks full of books. In addition, he can no longer stand the shoddy written foolscap or papers that these students submit to him. Furthermore, he wonders what is the point of this all – to him and the students. So, it’s evident that years of toil in the classroom have taken their toll on this teacher.

He believes that the students he teaches are indifferent (uninterested). He no longer wants to labor in trying to get them to be interested in what he teaches. He says:

“I will not waste my soul and my strength for this.”

At this point in his life, with all his accumulated teaching experience, this teacher feels it is all for naught. He believes that all his efforts, and those of his students, ends up going down the scrap heap (metaphorically speaking). He states that his teaching and his students’ learning:

"...all goes down the same abyss”

In the end, this teacher says that he no longer cares for what he does regarding the teaching profession, and he also no longer cares what the students take in. He desires that he and they expend their strength elsewhere – in new directions. Therefore, he is waiting for the afternoon school bell to mercifully put an end to this boring and unproductive “Last Lesson of the Afternoon.”