“The Lesson” is a short narrative poem in free verse, its seventy lines divided into six stanzas of varying lengths. The title suggests that the poem will focus upon an event or series of events from which the poet gained new knowledge. Such events are often characterized by irony, as they tend to overturn one’s comfortable assumptions about the nature of things—sometimes violently, sometimes comically, sometimes, as in “The Lesson,” both.
The poem is written in the first person, which gives the events that it describes the authority of actual experience and the poignance of personal recollection. One is encouraged to assume that the lesson mentioned in the poem’s title was learned by the poet himself. He speaks directly to the reader in a tone both retrospective and confessional. As one reads, one believes that one is being taken into the poet’s confidence and invited to share the knowledge he has gained.
The poem opens with a sudden, ironic revelation as the poet realizes that he has in some way been deluded his entire life, has been “the idiot pupil/ of a practical joker.” The words that the poet chooses to describe his revelation foreshadow the complexity of the narrative he is about to unfold, as they accuse both his own foolishness and the cruelty of his experience for the ignorance which the poem will explain and dispel. Having realized himself to be the victim of a malicious joke, the poet intends to be a victim no...
(The entire section is 542 words.)