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FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL BY ROGER MCGOUGH

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by kanchana joseph on 2 April 2013

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Transcript of FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL BY ROGER MCGOUGH

FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL First Day at School
A millionbillionwillion miles from home
Waiting for the bell to go. (To go where?)
Why are they all so big, other children?
So noisy? So much at home they
Must have been born in uniform
Lived all their lives in playgrounds
Spent the years inventing games
That don't let me in. Games
That are rough, that swallow you up.

And the railings.
All around, the railings.
Are they to keep out wolves and monsters?
Things that carry off and eat children?
Things you don't take sweets from?
Perhaps they're to stop us getting out
Running away from the lessins. Lessin.
What does a lessin look like?
Sounds small and slimy.
They keep them in the glassrooms.
Whole rooms made out of glass. Imagine.

I wish I could remember my name
Mummy said it would come in useful.
Like wellies. When there's puddles.
Yellowwellies. I wish she was here.
I think my name is sewn on somewhere
Perhaps the teacher will read it for me.
Tea-cher. The one who makes the tea.
Roger McGough NOTES:
2 Waiting for the bell to go: waiting for the bell to ring; waiting for the school bell (a signal from an actual bell or an electronic recording that marks the beginning and end of the school day and of each class period in many elementary and high schools) to sound

lessins, lessin: misspelling of lessons and lesson, representing a childish pronunciation, understanding or imagination of lessons

glassrooms: mispelling, imitating the child's pronunciation of classroomwellies: short informal term for wellingtons which is British English for boots Study Questions

1.What do we know about the speaker from the poem? How? Consider the ways in which diction, grammar, simile, metaphor, imagery, and sentence structure are used to simulate the voice and perspective of a child. Why is a very young point of view—one so fresh as a first timer at school—evocative in speaking about school?

2. Why is it appropriate that wolves and monsters are mentioned as fearful threats in line 12?

3. What do "wolves and monsters" together with the action "carry off and eat children" evoke?

4. Where might the child speaker learn about not taking sweets from strangers?

5. The speaker asks, "What does a lessin look like?" You might also consider, what does a "lessin" sound like? What new connotations emerge with the simple substitution of i for the usual o?

6. Why are the made up and intentionally altered words like "millionbillionwillion," "lessin," "glassrooms," and "tea-cher" funny? Why are they not?

7. Is it surprising that of all the features of school enumerated and described, it is the teacher who is given the most positive portrayal? While school is depicted as far away, friends as large and aggressive, fences as imposing, lessons as loathsome, and classrooms as curiously exposed, the teacher is a reassuring provider of answers and comfort. Why do you think McGough structures the poem this way?

8. What has the speaker learned at school on this first day? How much of what is learned is part of the planned "lessins"? The very first line expresses childhood exaggeration and wordplay:
“A millionbillionwillion miles from home”
and this is followed by the child’s literal interpretation of what he has been told:
“Waiting for the bell to go. (To go where?)”
He now becomes aware of something scary in the form of other, older, children:
“Why are they all so big, other children?
So noisy? So much at home they
Must have been born in uniform.” Roger McGough (born in November 1937) is one of the most popular British poets to have emerged during the 20th century, his poems having an immediate appeal to people across a wide spectrum, including many who would not describe themselves as readers or lovers of poetry. However, despite this popularity, he is also a poet of genuine merit who uses language in innovative ways to express deep feelings and emotions and to get to the heart of a problem or circumstance. “ He immediately sees them as something alien and not like him. They also display alienation towards him in that they must have:
“Spent the years inventing games
That don't let me in. Games
That are rough, that swallow you up.” Being alone and rejected, the child now looks around him and his attention is taken by the railings that surround the playground. The second stanza begins:

“And the railings.

All around, the railings.

Are they to keep out wolves and monsters?

Things that carry off and eat children?



Things you don't take sweets from?

Perhaps they're to stop us getting out

Running away from the lessins.”

He sees them first as being a protection from outside threats, which leads his imagination down a fresh path in which “wolves and monsters” from bedtime stories are associated with his parents’ admonitions not to take sweets from strangers. There is an interesting link from the first stanza in that his fear of being “swallowed up” has been transferred to a new threat that can “eat” him.

However, he then wonders if these railings are not prison bars designed to prevent his escape from other monsters that he should fear even more, namely the “lessins” that he has been told to expect. “What does a lessin look like?
Sounds small and slimy.
They keep them in the glassrooms.
Whole rooms made out of glass. Imagine.”
Without the necessary understanding, concepts such as “lesson” and “classroom” belong in the fantasy world of the child’s vivid imagination. McGough understands this well, and he reminds the reader that this was how he or she would have responded when they were that age. The third stanza begins with another sudden shift, this time back to the child himself:

“I wish I could remember my name

Mummy said it would come in useful.

Like wellies. When there's puddles.

Yellowwellies. I wish she was here.”

His mind switches back to the certainties in his life, particularly his mother who only left him a few minutes before but whom he misses already. The mention of his pet name for his wellington boots, his “yellowwellies”, is enough to bring back his fear of the unknown and his desire for the comfort of his mother’s presence. “I think my name is sewn on somewhere
Perhaps the teacher will read it for me.
Tea-cher. The one who makes the tea.”
It is a nice touch on McGough’s part to end the poem with another childish misunderstanding, as well as the appreciation that many young children do not know their own name, having not had occasion to use their surname in their life up to this point. The reader is therefore left with the realization that, when the bell goes in a few minutes time, the child’s life is going to take a dramatic surge forward from being a child of a parent, living at home, to one among many pupils under the care of a teacher. There are few rites of passage in a young person’s life that are more disruptive than this, and yet it is not a theme that has had much attention from adult writers, apart from Roger McGough, that is.
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