In her poem “Spring in the Classroom,” Mary Oliver utilizes a variety of imagery to juxtapose nature with the dry academic environment. The mention of “pulsing initials” being carved into the desks is an example of organic imagery. The idea of one’s initials going through the pains of being carved exaggerates the pain of wasting away in a classroom in which the students feel they have been carved into. This kinesthetic image of the classroom, being presented as the final destination for “pulsing” beings, is further supported by Oliver’s description of the aging teacher. Oliver allows one to place themselves in the position of an elderly woman who has been wasting away while sitting on a chair for so long that her legs swell up- perhaps because her “pulsing” has slowed down. The idea of being suffocated by the oppressive atmosphere of the academic environment is further emphasized using olfactory imagery when Oliver speaks of the “chalky air” the students are forced to breath.
The poem speaks of the mundane nature of the academic environment that robs children of their patience. Over the course of the poem, the tone of the narrator- a former child- changes from longing “to catch glimpses…of the greening…” to restlessness as the children “carve their pulsing initials into the desks” to downright vengefulness as they “[plotted] mutiny” against their teacher, who they perceived to be their insentient oppressor. Mary Oliver used exaggeration to emphasize the detrimental effects of captivity on the mind of an individual. The restrictive academic environment had similar corrosive effects on the well-being of the teacher. This is emphasized by the juxtaposition of her having “stony” eyes while she is inside the classroom and “blooming…in the art teacher’s arms” once the limitations of the school day cease to apply to her.
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