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The Village Schoolmaster Character Sketch Essay

Presentation on theme: "The Village Schoolmaster"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Village Schoolmaster

2 This is not really a whole poem but an extract from Goldsmith's long poem The Deserted Village, which runs to 430 lines. In the opening line of the complete poem, Goldsmith names the village as "sweet Auburn" - but the original on which it is modelled was, according to the poet's sister, Lissoy, in County Westmeath, Ireland.

3 This passage is a portrait of a teacher at the village school
This passage is a portrait of a teacher at the village school. The poet is looking back on a time when the village was lively and active whereas now no one lives there. (Goldsmith's readers knew this as a reality - changes in land ownership, coupled with new job opportunities in machine production, had caused people to move from the country to the cities, leaving many villages without people.)

4 In doing so, Goldsmith represents the past as a kind of golden age - a better, kinder and happier time, certainly. Here he expresses admiration for the village teacher. He lists his personal qualities and gives details of the master's learning. But above all he shows how the schoolmaster belonged in his place - having the affection and respect of the whole community.

5 The poem in detailGoldsmith identifies the site of the school, in the way he might point it out to a visitor, as beside a fence ("straggling" perhaps, because no-one maintains it now). "Noisy mansion" is partly ironic - the school building would be modest, not really a "mansion" (a luxurious house) except to the teacher and scholars, who would be used to tiny cottages or hovels.

6 The teacher is outwardly strict, and the scholars learn to respond to his moods (some things do not change much). But he is really kind. Among his accomplishments are literacy ("he could write") and numeracy ("and cipher"). He could measure distances on charts, calculate dates and forecast tides. People believe that he can "gauge" (survey land or estimate its area) - but we do not know if the belief is justified. Most impressive, the village parson recognized his ability to argue.

7 The less educated country people were full of wonder that "one small head could carry" so much. To the reader, his learning will seem quite limited, but also not especially academic, as we would now call it. Much of what the teacher knows or is rumoured to know is of immediate practical usefulness - like working out dates, tides and land areas.

8 The poet's methodThe form of this poem is in a long sequence of the kind that we call discursive - it moves from one mini-subject to another, in a carefully-organized whole.

9 The other feature is a very delicate irony
The other feature is a very delicate irony. Goldsmith is sincere in his admiration, and he does think that the teacher is a good and worthy man. But he reveals that this object of the villagers' wonder was really quite limited in his achievements. The villagers think it marvellous that he can write and count, for example - but this tells us more about them than about him.

10 The great importance of the parson as a judge of ability appears, too
The great importance of the parson as a judge of ability appears, too. (If the parson says it, then it must be true.) Most revealing is the way that the schoolmaster impressed people in argument - by using "words of learned length and thundering sound". (This could almost be a criticism of poetic diction, too.) That is, he did not win by logic or reason, but through using words that baffled the hearer

11 There are still people who find this impressive, but nowadays we are often unconvinced by those who hide a weak argument behind impressive-sounding words. Moreover, the fact that most of the village people seem to remain ignorant rustics may mean that the schoolmaster has never succeeded in passing on much of his learning to the scholars.

12 We also note the formal use of contrast - one pair of lines beginning "Full well" shows how the scholars would know when to laugh (even pretending to find his jokes funny), while the next pair shows how they knew when he was in a more severe mood.



The village school master who ran his little school was a severe disciplinarian. The students were afraid of him and were sufficiently clever to assess from his face whether that day would bring any misfortune or not. In spite of his strictness, the school master was jolly. The children laughed at his jokes with pretended joy. If they noticed any sign of anger on his face they would spread the news throughout the classroom. The school master was, in reality, a kind hearted person. His only fault was his excessive love for learning. He could write, work out sums, survey land, forecast the time and tide and measure the content of a vessel. He was a master at argument, too. He used verbose words when he talked and the simple village people would gawk at him. They were amazed that such a small head could hold such an enormous hoard of knowledge.

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Concept Map

Text of the poem

The Village School Master by Oliver Goldsmith.

Click here to access the text of the poem.

Idea of the poem

Core Meaning

The village Goldsmith is writing about is called "Auburn". It is not a real village, but an imaginary ideal one. It is possibly one of the villages he had observed as a child and a young man in Ireland and England. Goldsmith, returns to the village that he knew as vibrant and alive, and finds it deserted and overgrown.

The setting of the particular passage is described in the first three lines. Then Goldsmith discusses the character of the schoolmaster himself. In his appearance, he is very severe and stern. The reader would suppose him humourless, except that he likes to tell jokes. When Goldsmith says "the boding tremblers learn'd to trace/The days disasters in his morning face," the reader comes to understand that the schoolmaster does not mince his words. In the last two lines, he indicates that the schoolmaster was no more. All of his fame has gone and the schoolhouse, once vibrant is no longer in use.

The schoolmaster was a big presence in the village. In an age when literacy and numeracy were powerful the people of the village, looked up to him. He seems a kind of god. The children are fearful of him. They laugh at his jokes, even if they are not funny. “Full well “(9-10)

The adults are equally impressed with the way he can survey fields ("lands he could measure", 17) and work out boundaries or the times of holy-days like Easter. He can even do more complex calculations ("gauge", 18). This is all ironic: the school-teacher appears knowledgeable to the "gazing rustics" (22).

The poem's jokes are gentle. The tone of the poem is balanced and gentleness and humour imply a frame of mind that Goldsmith sees as important, as having a moral value in itself.

Alternative interpretations

Context of the poem

"The Village Schoolmaster" by Goldsmith is a lighthearted reflection of a village schoolmaster, but a more serious comment on a public policy.

"Enclosure" was a policy that allowed the wealthy to fence off their land. This prevented villagers, lower class workers and those who didn't own land, from grazing cattle and letting pigs forage, etc., which led to many small villages becoming deserted. The fence in the poem has been neglected, and the gorse has been allowed to grow wild, instead of being collected for fuel, all because the village is deserted due to enclosure.

The schoolmaster was beloved, but he should not be misinterpreted as scholarly or brilliant. Students laugh at his jokes so that they don't get in trouble, and he impresses the uneducated villagers with big words, etc. He also continues to argue even after he has lost. In other words, he was stubborn.

Yet, he was well-liked and is remembered. But the village which liked him is no longer inhabited.

About the author

Oliver Goldsmith (10 November 1730 – 4 April 1774) was an Irish novelist, playwright and poet, who is best known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766). He is also known for his pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770), and his plays The Good-Natur'd Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1771, first performed in 1773). He also wrote An History of the Earth and Animated Nature. He is thought to have written the classic children's tale The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes, the source of the phrase "goody two-shoes"

Transacting the text

Audio recital of the poem

To listen to the audio recital of the poem, Click here

Language appreciation

This poem is a simple vignette of a village school master. The school was in a small village at Lissoy, an Irish village where the poet himself had studied. Mr. Thomas Paddy Byrne was the village school master. As the poet himself was a pupil of this school master, he is able to create an authentic aura to the poem. The school master’s fluctuating moods, the situation in the class room and reactions of learner are described in this poem. Goldsmith looked upon the teacher with the mixed feelings of fear, respect and humour.

The poet gives an amusing sketch of the teacher’s character. He analyses the nature and capability of the school master. The teacher was a taskmaster who took his students to task if they played truant. The poet, as a student, was very aware of this facet of the school master. But he valued his stand and came to love and respect him. The harsh steps taken by the teacher had a soft and virtuous purpose behind them as he wished to see his pupils turn in to learned people.

The school master’s is recognized as a great scholarly person by the entire village and even the parson recognizes his skill in debate. The poem ends on a note of humour. The teacher is not to be taken as a sheer sardonic sketch. He was kind and compassionate . He creates a larger than life figure of himself before them. He has a view on every subject and loves to engage in debate.

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Meaning making


New words in a poem can be introduced through interactive educational tools. Tools such as Kanagram allow you to create vocabulary lists which can be introduced to the students. Students can also assist teachers in building these vocabularies. To learn how to use Kanagram and Khangman (UBUNTU Educational tools) please visit the following link:


Sample word list:

Skirts: Go round or pass the edge of

Blossom'd: mature or develop in a promising or healthy way

Truant: a pupil who stays away from school without leave or explanation

Counterfeited: imitate fraudulently

Cipher: put (a message) into secret writing; encode

Vanquish'd: defeat thoroughly

For more information on vocabulary visit: http://karnatakaeducation.org.in/KOER/index.php/Vocabulary/Grammar

Figures of speech

A figure of speech is the use of a word or words diverging from its usual meaning. It can also be a special repetition, arrangement or omission of words with literal meaning, or a phrase with a specialized meaning not based on the literal meaning of the words in it, as in idiom, metaphor, simile, hyperbole, or personification. Figures of speech often provide emphasis, freshness of expression, or clarity. However, clarity may also suffer from their use, as any figure of speech introduces an ambiguity between literal and figurative interpretation. A figure of speech is sometimes called a rhetorical figure or a locution. To know more click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figure_of_speech

The ones which have been used in this poem are:

Alliteration: "terms and tides"; "rustics rang'd"

Anaphora: "Full well they laugh'd"; "Full well the busy"

Analogy: it's a part to whole. The schoolmaster (part) is compared to the village (whole)

Imagery: 3 types

setting-based imagery: "straggling fence"; "noisy mansion"; "little school" intellectual/educational imagery: "Lands"; "terms and tides"; "small head" rhetorical/linguistic imagery: "words"; "jokes"; "story" Rhyming couplets: pairs of rhyming lines ("spot" / "forgot")

End-stopped lines (punctuation "." or "," or ";" at the end of a line)

Caesura: punctation in the middle of a line ("Yet he was kind; or if severe in aught,")

Speaker/Tone: loves the school master; poem is a dedication to him

Additional resources

Videos can be used in the classroom to demonstrate effective reading strategies. A poem can be read out with emotions, voice modulation and dramatic effects by the teacher. Some poem recitations are available over the Internet too. A few links to the same are:



Ask the learners to write a short paragraph using the hints given below.


  • What is the poem about?
  • Which is the most striking image and why.?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the present school masters and the one described in the poem?

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