“In Mrs Tilscher’s Class” is a poem by the Scottish poet Carol Ann Duffy. It was first published in her 1990 collection, The Other Country. In the poem, the speaker addresses a younger version of him- or herself, describing the transition between childhood and adolescence. For the speaker, childhood was a safe and innocent place. But when the speaker learns about sex—and begins to develop his or her own sexual desires—things change: the world becomes messy and confusing. The speaker of the poem longs nostalgically for the safety and innocence of childhood, but also knows that change is irreversible; he or she can’t go back.
You could travel ...
... Ethiopia. Khartoum. Aswân.
That for an ...
... a running child.
This was better ...
... of a mistake.
Mrs Tilscher loved ...
... from another form.
Over the Easter ...
... the lunch queue.
A rough boy ...
... got back home.
That feverish July, ...
... then turned away.
Reports were handed ...
... into a thunderstorm.
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.
Brady and Hindley — An article on the Brady and Hindley murders from the Telegraph.
The SRB Interview: Carol Ann Duffy — A recent interview with Carol Ann Duffy and the Scottish Review of Books.
Biography of Carol Ann Duffy — A detailed biography of Carol Ann Duffy from the Poetry Foundation.
Winning Lines — A 2002 profile of Carol Ann Duffy from The Guardian Newspaper.
"In Mrs Tilscher's Class" at the BBC — A detailed exploration of the themes of "In Mrs Tilscher's Class" from the BBC.
1You could travel up the Blue Nile
2with your finger, tracing the route
3while Mrs Tilscher chanted the scenery.
4Tana. Ethiopia. Khartoum. Aswân.
5That for an hour, then a skittle of milk
6and the chalky Pyramids rubbed into dust.
7A window opened with a long pole.
8The laugh of a bell swung by a running child.
9This was better than home. Enthralling books.
10The classroom glowed like a sweet shop.
11Sugar paper. Coloured shapes. Brady and Hindley
12faded, like the faint, uneasy smudge of a mistake.
13Mrs Tilscher loved you. Some mornings, you found
14she’d left a good gold star by your name.
15The scent of a pencil slowly, carefully, shaved.
16A xylophone’s nonsense heard from another form.
17Over the Easter term, the inky tadpoles changed
18from commas into exclamation marks. Three frogs
19hopped in the playground, freed by a dunce,
20followed by a line of kids, jumping and croaking
21away from the lunch queue. A rough boy
22told you how you were born. You kicked him, but stared
23at your parents, appalled, when you got back home.
24That feverish July, the air tasted of electricity.
25A tangible alarm made you always untidy, hot,
26fractious under the heavy, sexy sky. You asked her
27how you were born and Mrs Tilscher smiled,
28then turned away. Reports were handed out.
29You ran through the gates, impatient to be grown,
30as the sky split open into a thunderstorm.