Mr Keating, the new English teacher at Welton Academy, a fictional exclusive American private
school, is quite a surprise to his students. His poetry class is something they will never forget.
The text is an excerpt from the novel Dead Poets Society (1989).
The following morning John Keating sat in a chair beside his desk. His mood seemed
serious and quiet.
"Boys," he said as the class bell rang, "open your Pritchard text to page 21 of the
introduction. Mr. Perry" - he gestured toward Neil - "kindly read aloud the first
paragraph of the preface entitied 'Understanding Poetry'."
The boys found the pages in their text, sat upright, and followed as Neil read:
" Understanding Poetry, by Dr. j. Evans Pritchard, PhD. To fully understand poetry, we
must first be fluent with its meter, rhyme, and figures of speech, then ask two questions:
1) How artfully has the objective of the poem been rendered and
2) How important is that objective?
Question 1 rates the poem's perfection, question 2 rates its importance.
Once these questions have been answered, determining the poem's greatness becomes a
relatively simple matter. lf the poem's score for perfection is plotted on the horizontal of
a graph and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of
the poem yields the measure of its greatness. A sonnet by Byron might score high on the vertical but only
average on the horizontal. A Shakespearean sonnet, on the other hand, would score high both horizontally and
vertically, yielding a massive total area, thereby revealing the poem to be truly great."
Keating rose from his seat as Neil read and went to the blackboard. He drew a graph, demonstrating by lines
and shading, how the Shakespeare poem would overwhelm the Byron poem.
Neil continued reading. "As you proceed through the poetry in this book, practice this rating method. As your
ability to evaluate poems in this manner grows, so will your enjoyment and understanding of poetry."
Neil stopped, and Keating waited a moment to let the lesson sink in. Then Keating grabbed onto his own throat
and screamed horribly. "AHHHHGGGGG!!" he shouted. "Refuse! Garbage! Pus! Rip it out of your books. Go on, rip
out the entire page! I want this rubbish in the trash where it belongs!"
He grabbed the trash can and dramatically marched down the aisles, pausing for each boy to deposit the ripped
page from his book. The whole class laughed and snickered.
"Make a clean tear," Keating cautioned. "I want nothing left of it! Dr.j. Evans Pritchard, you are
disgraceful!" The laughter grew, and it attracted the attention of the Scottish Latin teacher, Mr. McAllister,
across the hall. Mr. McAllister came out of his room and peeked into the door window as the boys ripped the
pages from their books. Alarmed, he pulled open the door and rushed into Keating's room.
"What the ... " McAllister said, until he spotted Keating holding the trash can. "Sorry, 1 didn't think
you were here, Mr. Keating." Baffled and embarrassed, he backed out of the room and quietly closed the door.
Keating strutted back to the front of the room, put the trash can on the floor and jumped into it. The boys
laughed louder. Fire danced in Keating's eyes. He stomped the trash a few times, then stepped out and kicked
the can away.
"This is battle, boys," he cried. "War! You are souls at a critical juncture. Either you will succumb to the
will of academic hoi polloi, and the fruit will die on the vine - or you will triumph as individuals.
"Have no fear, you will learn what this school wants you to learn in my class; however,
if I do my job properly, you will also learn a great deal more. For example, you will learn to savor
language and words because no matter what anyone tells you, words and ideas have the power to change the
The teacher paced to the back of the room. "Now Mr. Pitts may argue that nineteenth-century literature has
nothing to do with business school or medical school. He thinks
we should study our J. Evans Pritchard, learn our rhyme and meter, and quietly go about our business of
achieving other ambitions."
Pitts smiled and shook his head. "Who, me?" he asked.
Keating slammed his hand on the wall behind him, and the sound reverberated like a drum. The entire class
jumped and turned to the rear. "Well," Keating whispered defiantly. "I say - drivel! One reads poetry because
he is a member of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion! Medicine, law, banking - these
are necessary to sustain life. But poetry, romance, love, beauty? These are what we stay alive for!"
Byron - English Romantic poet (1788-1824)
sonnet - poem of 14 lines
snicker - laugh quietly in an unpleasant way
juncture - important moment
to succumb to sth. - to give in to sth.
hoi polloi (Greek) - the common people, the masses
savor sth. - enjoy sth.
reverberate - widerhallen
defiant - herausfordernd
sustain sth. - to keep sth. in existence
1. What do you think of Keating's teaching methods? What do you lik about them, what do you dislike?
2. Why does Keating ask the boys to rip out the introduction to their poetry reader?
3. What does Keating mean when he cries 'This is battle, boys' ?
4. According to Keating, why is literature important? Discuss Keating's theses.
Source: Eleven, Ausgabe A, pp. 61-63