In “A Barred Owl” by Richard Wilbur and “The History Teacher” by Billy Collins, adults attempt to explain the unknown to children by lying. In both poems, literary devices are used to convey exactly how the adults manipulate the children to believe everything other than the truth, mainly to keep them in a state of calm and ignorance. Devices such as rhyme scheme and juxtaposition are used in Wilbur’s poem to demonstrate the effectiveness of lying to calm one’s fears while other devices such as tone and metaphors are used in Collins’ to show the effects of misinformation on the actions of the youth, as well as the ignorance of the individuals who spread it.
Wilbur utilizes the rhyming scheme (couplets) in “A Barred Owl” to develop the little girl’s fear of the owl into her acceptance that it is not a threat. For ...view middle of the document...
When the dark setting with the owl’s “voice” is first introduced, it instills fear into the child. However, after the speaker falsely tells the child that the owl is simply saying “Who cooks for you? (Line 6), the child begins to realize that this owl that she fears is actually not a threat. Lines 7-8 clarify this as it says, “Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear, can also thus domesticate a fear…”. This significant contrast between fear and acceptance and the effect of lying is what Wilbur is trying to convey. Through his use of rhymes in couplets and juxtaposition, we are able to grasp the true meaning of the poem.
In Collins’ “The History Teacher”, lying has an entirely different effect on children. Figurative language is used to show what caused this effect, as several metaphors are present in the first 12 lines of the poem. When the history teacher is teaching the students about certain events in history, he compares them to rather harmless aspects. For example, he compares the Ice Age to a “Chilly Age, a period of time when everyone had to wear sweaters”. (Lines 3-4) He then goes on to compare the Stone Age to “the long driveways of the time” and the Spanish Inquisition to an “outbreak of questions”. (Lines 5-8) These metaphors exemplify the misinformation that is being fed to the students by the teacher. In light of this, an ironic tone is also present in the poem. Even after the teacher makes the world seem like a peaceful place, the students react in a very unorthodox manner. It is stated that they would leave the classroom and “torment the weak and the smart, mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses…” (Lines 13-16). In addition, the teacher is stated as walking home “past flower beds and white picket fences…” (Lines 17-18). Both of these situations are extremely ironic, as you would expect these individuals to react differently to the teacher’s lessons. The