The British poet Carol Ann Duffy included "Death of a Teacher" in her collection New Selected Poems 1984-2004. Written in response to the death of Duffy's favorite childhood English teacher, the poem features a speaker who fondly remembers sitting in class and listening to her teacher recite poetry by famous poets like W. B. Yeats and John Keats. This experience profoundly impacted the speaker, who as a 13-year-old student fell in love with the sounds of poetry. Remembering this meaningful experience, the speaker says that teaching is like an "endless love" that lasts "for life," implying that the influence of a good teacher is something that never fades.
The big trees ...
... You died yesterday.
When I heard ...
... poem by Yeats
to the bored ...
... on the air.
We were truly ...
... lines from Keats.
... for life.
Under the gambling ...
... to be turned.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Duffy's Biography — For more information about Carol Ann Duffy, check out this brief overview of her life and work.
The Poker Turn — A brief explanation of what it means to "turn" in poker (a term the speaker uses in the poem's first stanza).
John Keats — A look at the life of John Keats—another famous poet that the speaker mentions in "Death of a Teacher."
Duffy on Poetry and Education — An interesting read on Carol Ann Duffy's attempt to get young people interested in poetry, including some background information about her own literary education.
William Butler Yeats — A short biography of William Butler Yeats, whom the speaker mentions in "Death of a Teacher."
1The big trees outside are into their poker game again,
2shuffling and dealing, turning, folding, their leaves
3drifting down to the lawn, floating away, ace high,
4on a breeze. You died yesterday.
5When I heard the hour – home time, last bell,
6late afternoon – I closed my eyes. English, of course,
7three decades back, and me thirteen. You sat on your desk,
8swinging your legs, reading a poem by Yeats
9to the bored girls, except my heart stumbled and blushed
10as it fell in love with the words and I saw the tree
11in the scratched old desk under my hands, heard the bird
12in the oak outside scribble itself on the air. We were truly there,
13present, Miss, or later the smoke from your black cigarette
14braided itself with lines from Keats. Teaching
15is endless love; the poems by heart, spells, the lists
16lovely on the learning tongue, the lessons, just as you said,
17for life. Under the gambling trees, the gold light thins and burns,
18the edge of a page of a book, precious, waiting to be turned.