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John Lundberg

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Poems About (Skipping) School

Posted: 09/09/2012 5:24 pm

The end of summer in America brings with it two absolutes: 1) school is back in session, and 2) kids are already practicing their small deceptions to get out of it. Shel Silverstein, perhaps, captured this best in his poem "Sick":

I cannot go to school today,
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
I have the measles and the mumps...

... and the chicken pox, and the flu, and every other malady Peggy Ann can think of. Of course, all these terrible sicknesses disappear when Peggy is informed that it's Saturday.

More than two centuries ago, William Blake made a far more convincing case for skipping school than Ms. McKay. Blake was a fervent disciple of the power of the imagination and spoke out against anything that, in his mind, stifled it. He took on traditional education in this excerpt from his poem "The Schoolboy," contrasting the lessons of nature (in the first stanza) with the "cage" of a proper education.

I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the skylark sings with me:
O what sweet company!

But to go to school in a summer morn, --
O it drives all joy away!
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day
In sighing and dismay.

Ah then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour;
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learning's bower,
Worn through with the dreary shower.

How can the bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing?
How can a child, when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring!

You can read Mary Ruefle's poem "The Hand" as a contemporary take on Blake's theme. In her more muted poem, Ruefle, too, elevates the knowledge that you don't learn in school. She sets a scene wherein a teacher asks a question, and a student knows the answer but chooses not to answer:

You don't raise your hand and there is
some essential beauty in your fingers,
which aren't even drumming, but lie
flat and peaceful.

Instead, the student looks outside, where "on an overhanging branch, a robin is ruffling its feathers," echoing the imagery in Blake's poem.

But all you little revolutionaries should be aware that there are also great poems that warn against skipping out on your education. Parents of persistent Peggy Ann McKays should share with them what Gwendolyn Brooks famously wrote in her poem "We Real Cool." Observing a group of pool players who "left school" early puffing their chests, Brooks wrote:

...We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

It isn't all pretty birds outside the schoolroom window. Now get to class, kids.

 
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