"The Village Schoolmaster" is a poem that exemplifies Oliver Goldsmith's whimsical and light-hearted humor, inimitable characterization, and coherent style.
Written in rhyming pentameter couplets, which are characteristic of eighteenth-century heroic poems, Goldsmith's verse is nostalgic in its remembrance of the schoolmaster who was once an integral part of a rural setting. Although humorously pointing to the "village master's" idiosyncrasies, there is, nevertheless, an underlying criticism of the decline of the rural countryside and its villages that were forced to give way to modernization: "But past is all his fame."
The "village master" is described as "severe" and "stern," yet he tells "many a joke" and is also depicted as being kind and dedicated:
Full well the busy whisper...
Convey'd the dismal tidings when he frown'd
Yet he was kind; or if severe in aught,
The love he bore to learning was in fault.
Truly, the schoolmaster is an integral member of the village, capable of affection and yet ready to discipline the children when necessary. His sternness comes from his desire for his students to learn: "The love he bore to learning was his fault."
As the poem concludes, the speaker praises the schoolmaster because he is more knowledgeable than many others, and he "could argue still" as well as any other man. Certainly, the schoolmaster holds an important role in the community, as he teaches the youth and is capable of helping the men with more challenging tasks, such as measuring their land and conducting legal issues—"terms and tides presage." Indeed, the schoolmaster is portrayed as an important member of the village, and it is with a nostalgic tone that the speaker of the poem recalls the "spot/ Where many a time he triumph'd is forgot."