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Colin Thiele's Bird in the Classroom: Poem Analysis

Instructor: Virginia Wilkerson

Virginia has a Master's degree in Curriculum and Development and a Ph.D. in English

Colin Thiele's poem 'Bird in the Classroom' describes a situation familiar to many students: being bored and sleepy during a lesson. In this poem, a sound from nature returns the students to nature's presence.

The Rhetorical Situation

Have you ever been sitting in a classroom in the middle of a long afternoon and, no matter what good intentions you have, the teacher's voice seems to be specifically designed to put you to sleep? Most of us have had this experience. And this is the rhetorical situation that Colin Thiele creates in his poem ''Bird in the Classroom''.

The classroom is often an indoor environment, and many young students find it boring and confining. On the other hand, the outdoors beckons in a natural way. Students who can see out windows to the great outdoors can have an especially hard time focusing on a lecturer's droning voice. Sensory descriptions in this poem point out the contrast.

Hard to Pay Attention
bored student

Colin Thiele

Colin Thiele was an Australian author and educator who was especially interested in children's literature. He worked as a high school teacher, college lecturer, principal and director. Thiele always had a particular fascination with words and unusual turns of phrase in language. Colin Thiele also served in the Australian Army during World War II.

So what happens in this particular poem? A group of students are stuck indoors in a classroom attempting to pay attention to a boring lesson when nature seems to beckon from outside.

Look at the first stanza:

''The students drowsed and drowned

in the Teacher's ponderous monotone -

limp bodies loping in the wordy heat,

melted and run together, desk and flesh as one.

swooning and swimming in a sea of drone.''

Can you think of a time in the classroom when you felt you were ''swooning and swimming in a sea of drone''? Especially when the outdoors beckons so strongly, many students find it difficult to focus on the abstract concepts of academics. In this poem, when they hear the sound of the bird calling from a nearby tree, it becomes impossible to ignore the allure of the natural world.

The Attraction of a Singing Bird
bird singing

Contrasts in the Language of the Poem

Thiele effectively emphasizes the contrast between the atmosphere in the classroom and the world outside. Indoors, the atmosphere is warm and sleep-inducing. Along with the teacher's voice, the heat of the inside of the school lulls the students to sleep.

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