This poem, like Before You Were Mine, is autobiographical, but more obviously so. Mrs. Tilscher is a real person, who taught Carol Ann Duffy in her last year at junior school. The poem is about rites of passage, the transition (move or change) from childhood to adolescence and the things we learn at school, from our teachers and from our peers. Duffy also associates the oppressive feeling we have in humid weather with the physical changes of puberty. Leaving primary school for the last time is like an escape we are eager to make but which takes us from safety into a dangerous unknown. Throughout the poem Duffy refers to "you". She means herself as she was in Mrs. Tilscher's class in the 1960s. But by writing in the second person she invites us to share her experience. Most readers will have had experiences like those Carol Ann Duffy depicts in this poem.
The first stanza has no real hint of what is to come: Duffy shows us a typical day in Mrs. Tilscher's class. While the children trace the route with their fingers on a map, the teacher tells them the names of places on the Blue Nile. After an hour comes playtime and a bottle of milk (a tradition abolished by Mrs. Thatcher when she was Secretary of State for Education). Other familiar images from school are the window-pole and the handbell. "The laugh of a bell swung by a running child" may be what is known as a transferred epithet - it is this child (or others, but not the bell) who will be laughing at the end of the lesson. Alternatively, "laughing" may be a metaphor for the vigorous ringing of the bell.
"Better than home" may seem odd (especially to readers from welcoming homes with lots to do).But Duffy means that there was more to do and to satisfy an intelligent child's imagination than in her home. The bright colours would be more exciting than home decoration. Although Ian Brady and Myra Hindley (the so-called "Moors Murderers" of the 1960s) have become notorious for their child murders, real...
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