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An Explication Of Billy Collins’ “The History Teacher”

1027 words - 5 pages

“While the novelist is banging on his typewriter, the poet is watching a fly in the window pane” ("Billy Collins > Quotes"). According to Bruce Weber of the New York Times, Billy Collins, unique to his own “domestic,” “suburban,” or “middle class” point of view, is hailed as “the most popular poet in America” due to high critical acclaim and broad popular appeal that is only matched by Robert Frost . According to John Updike, his poems are “limpid, gently and consistently startling, more serious than they seem, they describe all the worlds that are and were and some others besides” (“Billy Collins”). In “The History Teacher,” a poem by Billy Collins, Collins uses irony, euphemisms, and ...view middle of the document...

The teacher pretends he is their ‘protector,’ but he is only setting up the students for failure. For example, in the first stanza, the teacher completely understates the extent of the Ice Age as “a period of a million years when everyone had to wear sweaters” (Collins 3-4). The Ice Age was actually a length of time that consists of multiple periods, when the Earth cooled and the ice caps expanded, that lasted longer than a million years. The only reason why the teacher would sugarcoat the Ice Age as the “Chilly Age” is to “spare his students from having to think about the extreme cold” which is an outrageously ludicrous effort because even “Chilly” and “Sweaters” hint to a possible influx of a cold weather system (Overview: ‘The History Teacher’). According to “Overview: ‘The History Teacher,’” the History Teacher could represent how a teacher would teach if the ideals of fundamentalist Christian Groups were allowed to be intertwined with modern teaching. This is evident because the exaggerated “million of years.” Other examples of how Collins satirizes the teacher created by fundamentalist Christian Groups are shown in the third and fourth stanzas.
In particular, Collins crafts a significant difference between the teacher and his students with his diction. The history teacher is painted with gentler verbiage like “protect” (Collins 1), “gathered,” “walked” (Collins 17). The teacher also lives in suburbia which is made evident by “flower beds” and “white picket fences” (Collins 18). This is typical of Collins’ style with a ‘twist.’ A majority of Collins’s works are against how suburbia clouds the mind (“Some Days”) and how he relies on cigarettes and alcohol to focus his mind on the reality of the world (“The Best Cigarette” and “Paperwork”). In “The History Teacher,” the teacher, himself, is naive. He truly believes that he is protecting his students from vulgarity of history that he is dooming them to repeat mistakes their ancestors have committed. In opposition, the students will be rough regardless as seen in “tormented” (Collins 14), “mussing up,” and “breaking”...

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