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The shorter a poem is, the more striking it is. Ron Koertge’s First Grade proved this through a magic of splendid simplicity, most especially in the last line of the poem- “For the rest of our lives.” Sincerely, I was struck by the swift and wholesome change or transition in scene from the first stanza to the next. However, what threw me off my seat was the last line because of the ‘eternity’ Koertge had implied in that stanza.
Just because of that line, the whole comparison between the first stanza, which illustrated our innocent and healthily imaginative childhood, and the second, which illustrated a stricter and guided society, had changed.
It caused that first stanza to look short-lived and the second one to be incessant, everlasting, and without end. This poem’s message, implied greatly by the last line, tells us that we must enjoy our childhood and never take any opportunity or moment with our loved ones for granted.
It also tells us that although we have our chance to have an occasional splurge, order, law, and justice will be prevalent at all times. This holds true to all people- especially those in First Grade.
I think the main theme is the flawed school system. I don’t mean the school system in a particular area or country. He’s talking about school in general and how it kills the individual’s creativity and intellectual independence. He mentions how his imagination was wild and free before first grade: “Until then, every forest had wolves in it” and “we could talk to water”.
But when he enters first grade, he’s faced with drab reality: his teacher is a “woman with the gray breath”; he’s saying that the state of mind the school creates in you is something that you’re stuck with for the rest of your life.
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