A Poetic Analysis on “A Barred Owl” And “The History Teacher”

In Richard Wilbur’s poem “A Barred Owl” and the poem “The History Teacher” by Billy Collins, both describe adults attempt to protect children from fears that are known and unknown to them, sugar-coating real life events that could harm the children’s innocence. An elementary school teacher in “The History Teacher” tries to shelter his students from what he thinks would affect the children’s view on the world while parents in “A Barred Owl” assure their “wakened child” that the “boom of an owl’s voice” are simple questions from a curious “forest bird”.

Both writers convey that grown-ups who try to preserve the innocence of children only delay the inevitable. Richard Wilbur depicts a common situation of a frightened child in the dark of the night seeking guidance from mom and dad. The writer distinguishes the mood and setting with lines such as, “The warping night air,” or, “darkened room. ” Wilbur uses these lines to help the reader understand the mood of the poem by using certain diction to portray the fear that is present within this child’s bedroom.

The meaning of each line is enhanced due to the author writing in an AABB rhyming pattern; emphasizing the significance of each rhyme such as the lines, “The warping night air having brought the boom of an owl’s voice into her darkened room” or, “Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear, can also thus domesticate a fear” and even, “Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.

By Richard Wilbur displaying a simple situation of a scared child, he displays the actions parents take in order to ease and comfort a child to not only preserve their innocence but to also take away any fear a child has while dealing with this type of situation and many others. In the poem, “A History Teacher” by Billy Collins, the writer illustrates a casual classroom full of ignorant children being educated by their teacher.

Little did these children know that their history teacher is presenting altered historical events in order to protect their innocence. By using the lines, “the Ice Age was really just the Chilly Age,” or, “the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,” Collins demonstrates the teachers attempt to shield the students from the outside world. The author speaks in third person to create an image in which the audience can fully understand rather than reading from first person.

By the author choosing third person rather than first person, the audience will not read from a perspective from a character within the story, therefore receiving a reliable perspective and not “one side of the story”. Writer Billy Collins helps the reader further understand how the teachers attempt to shelter his students from the cruel Darwinism of the world did nothing but harm their education.

The lines, “The children … torment the weak and the smart,” and, “he gathered his notes … wondering if they would believe…” displays the reality of the teacher being the ignorant character other than the students by harming their education in order to protect them from the inevitable. With Richard Wilbur using the lines “And send a small child back to sleep at night” to the lines “Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw” in “A Barred Owl” the writer allows the audience to understand the child’s contentment as she goes to sleep as an innocent child.

The audience also understands that with the child being sent to bed with a white lie, she remains ignorant from the Darwinism of the world. Although, in Billy Collins’ “The History Teacher” the students continue to act in Darwinism as they carry on to “torment the weak and the smart… breaking their glasses,” and both the teacher and children go home from learning and feeling nothing when the child and parents in “A Barred Owl” go to sleep with peace and understanding that fear is no where to be found.

The History Teacher” is told in third person point of view for the audience to conceive both sides of the result the teacher has caused by his choice of guidance. “A Barred Owl” is written in first person point of view to display the parents decision on soothing a frightened child; both poems present both sides of the outcomes the adults cause. Richard Wilbur and Billy Collins expose adults’ attempt to prevent children from losing their innocence although the writers also display an example of adults doing anything possible, striving to prohibit what is destined.

Parents should ease children into the real world rather than be afraid of their children entering corruption. “A Barred Owl” and “The History Teacher” opens adults’ eyes to where adults realize when and where a child should enter the real world. Adults should guide children through troubling times and not alter their view of the world so much it can become destructive.