Duffy states in her poem how she is able to sit in a classroom enthralled by her teacher, while Heaney speaks of the dread he felt at sitting waiting until the afternoon “At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home”. In the first paragraph of Duffy’s poem, she describes “The laugh of a bell”, in contrast to how Heaney felt as he described the “the bells knelling classes to a close”. Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “In Mrs Tilscher’s Class” explores her childhood memories as she reflects on the time spent in a particular class at school. Her memories are mostly happy. She remembers school as “better than home”.
It is mainly a positive poem, uplifting the reader, sharing mutual events familiar not only to school aged children but also to a wider audience of varying ages. Not all Duffy’s memories were happy however, as she does briefly mention “Brady and Hindley faded like the faint uneasy smudge of a mistake” but doesn’t dwell on it as she quickly moves onto how she felt a sense of security and love for her teacher, Mrs Tilscher. Gold stars were a treat for working hard and Mrs Tilscher often left these as surprises. Duffy comments on how she felt at receiving one, “Mrs Tilscher loved you”.
She comments on the efforts made by Mrs Tilscher to make the classroom an appealing place, “The classroom glowed like a sweetshop”. In contrast to Duffy’s mainly happy memories, Heaney describes how as a young boy, he saw his father crying, unable to cope with the death of his younger four year old brother, when previously his father “had always taken funerals in his stride-“. He speaks of how the neighbour, Jim Evans said the death of the little boy had been “a hard blow” to the family. This is a typical Northern Irish phrase as sometimes when people are going through a hard time, they talk of life dealing them a hard blow.
In the midst of everything going on, Heaney is still able to notice the “baby cooed and laughed”, which shows how observant he must have been. Heaney comments on how he felt “embarrassed by old men standing up to shake my hand and tell me they were “sorry for my trouble” “. In a way he was forced by this tragedy into growing up by the respect these old men were showing him because “I was the eldest”. Heaney’s childhood appears to be coming to an end in the sense of the impact caused by his younger brother’s death, yet we can still sense his childhood as he talks of “my mother held my hand in hers”.