Write a summary of the poem "The Village Schoolmaster" by Oliver Goldsmith.

The poem first describes an abandoned schoolhouse that was once noisy and led by a stern schoolmaster who took education and teaching seriously. Throughout the poem, the narrator describes how the children perceived him; although he was stern, they laughed at his jokes and recognized his kindness, and they admired all his knowledge and talent. Now, the narrator remarks that all of it is in the past and the schoolmaster is not here anymore.

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The poem "The Village Schoolmaster" is actually a fragment of a longer poem called "The Deserted Village," which is a description and social commentary on a village that has been abandoned by its residents. The final line of "The Village Schoolmaster" refers to the abandonment of the village when it says: "The very spot where many a time he triumph'd is forgotten." It was first published in 1770. Although the full poem was quite popular, it was also controversial due to its disparagement of the pursuit of excessive wealth and disdain of the corrupting influence of luxury.

"The Village Schoolmaster" opens with a description of the fence and the shrubs that surround the school building. It then zooms in on the schoolmaster. In appearance he is severe and stern. In other words, he looks as if he is a strict disciplinarian. In his expression students can read if the day has been difficult.

The schoolmaster often tells jokes, and the students laugh to please him, whether or not they think that the jokes are funny. If they see him frown they are concerned and whisper to each other about it. However, the poem emphasizes that he is a kind man, and if he is ever severe, it is only because he is so concerned that the students learn their lessons.

The entire village is impressed by the schoolmaster's education. He can not only read and write, but he can also do arithmetic, is skilled at debate, and has an impressive vocabulary. The simple rustic villagers marvel how one person can know so much.

The time during which the schoolmaster was famous as a man of learning is in the past, though, and the school where he taught is forgotten.

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The speaker describes a dilapidated fence, dotted with blossoming gorse bushes, and says that the old schoolhouse used to be quite noisy, presided over by the school teacher. The teacher was severe and stern—the speaker says that he knew this teacher well—and his students learned to read their teacher's moods by the expressions on his face. His students would laugh at all the jokes he told, hoping to extend his periods of levity. The speaker admits that the teacher was also kind and loved learning so much. Everyone could tell how much the teacher knew. He could read and write, do math, measure the land, and predict the tides. Even the parson had to admit that the teacher could speak well, using awe-inspiring words, and people would come and gather to listen. It amazed everyone that so much knowledge could fit inside "one small head." But, now, all the teacher's fame is past and his triumphs are forgotten.

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"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."

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The poem begins with a description of an old schoolhouse that is bordered by a dilapidated fence and flowering gorse bushes ("blossom'd furze unprofitably gay").

The narrator tells us that the school was once a "noisy mansion" presided over by a village schoolmaster. He remembers how severe and stern the man was; as a teacher, he was feared by every child who played truant. The narrator relates that frightened schoolchildren could "trace the day's disasters in his morning face." Despite his sternness, however, the schoolmaster told plenty of jokes. His students laughed at them to humor him; they were determined to prolong his brief moments of sanguinity and to lessen his periods of discontent.

Yet, for all his severity, the schoolmaster was known to be kind. If he was an uncompromising teacher, it was only due to his commitment to education. The village people stood in awe of him. He was literate, knowledgeable about "terms and tides" (geographical boundaries and the times of festivals), skillful in mathematical computations ("gauge"), and experienced in land-surveying. Additionally, he was skilled in the art of rhetoric and debate ("In arguing too, the parson own'd his skill,/ For e'en though vanquish'd he could argue still").

In fact, the schoolmaster was the wonder of the "gazing rustics" (the uninformed throng of people who marveled at his deep knowledge). These people were so awed by the schoolmaster that they often wondered how "one small head could carry all he knew." In the end, the narrator ends the poem with the sad proclamation that the schoolmaster no longer teaches at the schoolhouse ("past is all his fame") and that "The very spot/ Where many a time he triumph'd is forgot." 

Basically, the schoolmaster's accomplishments have been consigned to the oblivion of a forgotten past. In the modern world, the schoolmaster only serves as a quaint reminder of the old ways.

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In "The Village Schoolmaster," an ironic admirer describes the schoolmaster's school as being beyond a "straggling" fence, or a fence that can't keep up--can't keep upright, that is. This means that the fence, probably a white picket fence, is tumbling over a bit from age. His schoolhouse is described as a noisy mansion. It wasn't large in reality, but by using the imagery of a mansion, the schoolmaster gains some image of greatness--greatness in miniature.

The schoolmaster's physical qualities are described as stern with easily read expressions because his face showed the signs of each day's catastrophes. He is said to be a teller of jokes at which his students "counterfeited" laughter, but by the ironic tone of narrator, displayed in words like "straggling" and "noisy mansion" and "little," the reader suspects the children laughed wholeheartedly.

His character triats are described next. He is kind and very learned about many subjects. He also enjoys a good energetic discussion with the clergyman. The ironic voice of the narrator appears again when he points out that even when schoolmaster has lost the argument, he keeps on talking with words of "learned length and thundering sound." The poem closes with the disclosure that this was all long ago and the beloved schoolmaster is no more. The poem was a tribute most likely written by a student from days long gone.

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"The Village Schoolmaster" is actually an excerpt from a poem called The Deserted Village by Oliver Goldsmith (November 10, 1728–April 4, 1774), an Irish playwright, novelist, and poet.

The poem was first published in 1770. It was inspired by an actual event—namely the demolition of a deserted village. A major theme of the poem is the depopulation of rural England and the effects of the Industrial Revolution.

The section concerning "The Village Schoolmaster" consists of 26 lines. The meter of the poem is "heroic couplets," meaning lines of iambic pentameter rhymed in pairs (i.e. AA BB CC).

The poem is narrated in the third person and describes how the villagers see the schoolmaster as a person of great power and learning, striking fear into the hearts of the errant students and respected for his vast learning.

The villagers who see the schoolmaster this way are both ignorant and innocent. In one way, the poet is mocking both schoolmaster and villagers, as sophisticated readers know that by standards of an educated urban elite the schoolmaster is not a particularly impressive figure. However, the mockery is gentle and displays a nostalgia for a pastoral world in which the schoolmaster was an important part of a cohesive community.

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I would say you can read this poem in two ways.  You can read it as praise of the teacher, or you can read it as a poem about how life is fleeting and so is fame (sort of like "Ozymandias."

In the poem, we are first told that the place where the teacher used to teach is falling apart now.

Then we are told about what he was like.  We find that he was a strict person.  The kids would try to "read" his face to see if he was in a good mood or bad.  They would laugh at his bad jokes so he wouldn't get angry.

But, the author says, the man was really only strict because he loved learning so much.  We are told that he was very smart and able to debate well.

Finally, though, we are told that "all his fame is past."

So is this a poem about how good he was?  Or is the ending more important -- is it a poem about how his fame (and everyone else's) fades away quickly?

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