Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way
With blossom’d furze unprofitably gay,
There, in his noisy mansion, skill’d to rule,
The village master taught his little school;
A man severe he was, and stern to view,
I knew him well, and every truant knew;
Well had the boding tremblers learn’d to trace
The days disasters in his morning face;
Full well they laugh’d with counterfeited glee,
At all his jokes, for many a joke had he:
Full well the busy whisper, circling round,
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.
The village all declar’d how much he knew;
‘Twas certain he could write, and cipher too:
Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage,
And e’en the story ran that he could gauge.
In arguing too, the parson own’d his skill,
For e’en though vanquish’d he could argue still;
While words of learned length and thund’ring sound
Amazed the gazing rustics rang’d around;
And still they gaz’d and still the wonder grew,
That one small head could carry all he knew.
But past is all his fame. The very spot
Where many a time he triumph’d is forgot.
Written as a sketch in Godsmith’s “Deserted Village”Godsmith’s
At six years of age Goldsmith’s village schoolmaster was Thomas (Paddy) Byrne and it is thought he was the basis of the poem.
Apparently he was an ideal tutor for the future poet. He had been educated well as befits a teacher but had joined the army and seen action abroad and risen to the rank of quartermaster of a Spanish regiment. When peace broke out he swapped the swagger stick for the schoolmaster’s cane and taught at Lissoy.
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.