English CBSE Class 12 NCERT Flamingo Chapter 1 The Last Lesson Line by Line Explanation and Meaning of Difficult Words
THE LAST LESSON
Notice these expressions in the text. Infer their meaning from the context
|In great dread of||In great fear of|
|In unison||In one voice, Together|
|Counted on||Depended on|
|A great bustle||Lot of activity|
|Thumbed at the edge||Worn out at edges due to overuse|
|Reproach ourselves with||Criticise ourselves, Repent ourselves|
I started for school very late that morning and was in great dread of a scolding, especially because M. Hamel had said that he would question us on participles, and I did not know the first word about them.
|In great dread of||In great fear of|
|Scolding||Rebuke, Reprimand, Firing|
|Paticiple||‘ing’ form of a verb used in continuous tense|
|Did not know the first word||Did not know anything, Knew nothing|
The narrator (Franz) got late at his home for the school. Mr. M Hamel is the teacher at school. Franz had a fear that he would receive rebuke from his teacher. Because teacher would ask question about participle and Franz did not know anything about these.
For a moment I thought of running away and spending the day out of doors. It was so warm, so bright! The birds were chirping at the edge of the woods; and in the open field back of the sawmill the Prussian soldiers were drilling. It was all much more tempting than the rule for participles, but I had the strength to resist, and hurried off to school.
|Out of doors||Outside in the open|
|Chirping||Sound of birds|
|Tempting||Inviting, Alluring, Attractive|
Franz thought of not going to school. He thought of spending the day in the open. Weather was warm and shiny. At the edge of the jungle birds were making noise. In the open field, German soldiers were exercising. All this was more attractive than rules of participles. But Franz did not do that. He quickly went to school.
When I passed the town hall there was a crowd in front of the bulletin-board. For the last two years all our bad news had come from there — the lost battles, the draft, the orders of the commanding officer — and I thought to myself, without stopping, “What can be the matter now?”
|Bulletin board||Notice board|
|The draft||Orders to join army|
|Commanding officer||Head of army|
Franz walked past town hall. He saw a crowd in front of notice board. Since last two and a half years, notice board displayed bad news. The battles lost by France. The orders to join army. The orders of the head of Prussian army. Franz did not stop at the town hall. He wondered what could be the matter.
Then, as I hurried by as fast as I could go, the blacksmith, Wachter, who was there, with his apprentice, reading the bulletin, called after me, “Don’t go so fast, bub; you’ll get to your school in plenty of time!”
|Hurried by||Walked quickly|
|Blacksmith||One who works on iron|
|In plenty of time||Before time|
Then Franz walked quickly towards school. The blacksmith Wachter was reading the bulletin. His trainee was also with him. Wachter called Franz and told him not to hurry. Wachter further told Franz that he would reach school before time.
I thought he was making fun of me, and reached M. Hamel’s little garden all out of breath.
|Making fun of||Joking about somebody|
|Out of breath||breathing fast, Gasping for breath|
Franz thought that Wachter was joking about him. So he kept walking quickly. Franz was breathing fast when he reached the garden of M Hamel.
Usually, when school began, there was a great bustle, which could be heard out in the street, the opening and closing of desks, lessons repeated in unison, very loud, with our hands over our ears to understand better, and the teacher’s great ruler rapping on the table.
|A great bustle||Lot of activities|
|In unison||In one voice, Together|
Most of the times, at the beginning of school, there used to be lot of activities. Sound of these activities could be heard in the street. Sound of opening and closing of desks. Sound of reciting the lesson together. The recitation used to be together in loud voice. Students would close their ears with hands. Teacher used to strike his ruler repeatedly on the table.
But now it was all so still! I had counted on the commotion to get to my desk without being seen; but, of course, that day everything had to be as quiet as Sunday morning. Through the window I saw my classmates, already in their places, and M. Hamel walking up and down with his terrible iron ruler under his arm.
|Still||Quiet, No movement|
|Counted on||Depended on|
|Commotion||Loud noise, Lot of activities|
|To get to||To reach|
But there was no noise. Franz had depended upon the noise and activities to reach his desk without getting noticed. But that day everything was quiet – as if it was a Sunday. (School remains closed on Sunday, so it is quiet on Sunday) M Hamel was walking up and down in the class. He had his fearful ruler in his hand.
I had to open the door and go in before everybody. You can imagine how I blushed and how frightened I was. But nothing happened. M. Hamel saw me and said very kindly, “Go to your place quickly, little Franz. We were beginning without you.”
|Blushed||Felt shy, Felt ashamed|
Franz opened the door. Everybody noticed him while he went to his desk. He felt shy and feared. But nobody said anything to him. His teacher M Hamel saw him. He spoke very kindly to him. He asked him to go to his desk. He further said that they were about to start the class without Franz.
[All these are indications that something had changed. Everybody was serious. Franz noticed these changes.]
I jumped over the bench and sat down at my desk. Not till then, when I had got a little over my fright, did I see that our teacher had on his beautiful green coat, his frilled shirt, and the little black silk cap, all embroidered, that he never wore except on inspection and prize days.
|Frilled shirt||Shirt with designs|
|Prize days||Special days|
Franz sat on his desk. He took some time to overcome his fear. After that he noticed that his teacher was wearing a different dress that day. He was wearing a beautiful green coat, a frilled shirt and a small cap of black colour. All these had embroidery on it. He wore this dress on inspection and special days only.
[This was a further indication that something had changed.]
Besides, the whole school seemed so strange and solemn. But the thing that surprised me most was to see, on the back benches that were always empty, the village people sitting quietly like ourselves; old Hauser, with his three-cornered hat, the former mayor, the former postmaster, and several others besides.
|Besides||In addition to, Additionally|
Additionally, the school was looking strange and formal. Franz was more surprised to see people sitting at the back benches. These benches normally used to be empty. Today villagers were sitting there quietly. Old Mr. Hauser was wearing hat. Former mayor, former postmaster and many others were also sitting in the class.
Everybody looked sad; and Hauser had brought an old primer, thumbed at the edges, and he held it open on his knees with his great spectacles lying across the pages.
|Primer||Book of primary class|
|Thumbed at the edge||Worn out at edges due to overuse|
Everybody was sad. Mr. Hauser had brought his book of primary class. Edges of the book were worn out. He had opened this book on his knees. His spectacles were on pages of the book.
While I was wondering about it all, M. Hamel mounted his chair, and, in the same grave and gentle tone which he had used to me, said, “My children, this is the last lesson I shall give you.
|Mounted his chair||Sat on his chair|
Franz was trying to guess what had happened. Meanwhile, M. Hamel sat on his chair. He said in a sad and gentle voice that this is the last lesson he would teach us.
The order has come from Berlin to teach only German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. The new master comes tomorrow. This is your last French lesson. I want you to be very attentive.”
|Attentive||Paying attention, Careful|
M Hamel informed that an order had come from Berlin. In all schools of Alsace and Lorraine towns, the teaching had to be in German medium. The new teacher would be coming tomorrow. He further informed that this would be our last lesson in French. He requested us to pay attention.
What a thunderclap these words were to me! Oh, the wretches; that was what they had put up at the town-hall!
|Wretches||Scoundrel, Villain, Cruel|
These words were a shock to Franz. He calls Germans scoundrels. Now he is able to understand about the notice at the bulletin board.
My last French lesson! Why, I hardly knew how to write! I should never learn anymore! I must stop there, then! Oh, how sorry I was for not learning my lessons, for seeking birds’ eggs, or going sliding on the Saar!
|Saar||Name of a river|
Franz is talking to himself. My last lesson in French. I do not know how to write French. He thinks that he should have learnt more. He wants to learn more. He regrets going in the jungle for picking eggs. He regrets going for a ride (boating) on the Saar river.
My books, that had seemed such a nuisance a while ago, so heavy to carry, my grammar, and my history of the saints, were old friends now that I couldn’t give up. And M. Hamel, too; the idea that he was going away, that I should never see him again, made me forget all about his ruler and how cranky he was.
Now Franz thinks that his books were his friends. Earlier he used to think that these were a problem for him. He did not want to give up books. He also understood that M Hamel would be going away from school. Franz will never see him again. So he forgot everything about his ruler and his strange behaviour.
Poor man! It was in honour of this last lesson that he had put on his fine Sunday clothes, and now I understood why the old men of the village were sitting there in the back of the room. It was because they were sorry, too, that they had not gone to school more. It was their way of thanking our master for his forty years of faithful service and of showing their respect for the country that was theirs no more.
Franz now understood many things. M Hamel was wearing those clothes because it was his last lesson. Villagers were sitting in the class because they had a regret of not going to school for more time. They had come to the class to thank M Hamel for the service he had given to the school. They had come to show respect to their country. Since their country was occupied by Germans, the author says that now it was not their country.
While I was thinking of all this, I heard my name called. It was my turn to recite. What would I not have given to be able to say that dreadful rule for the participle all through, very loud and clear, and without one mistake? But I got mixed up on the first words and stood there, holding on to my desk, my heart beating, and not daring to look up.
|Not daring||Not having courage|
While Franz was thinking, his name was called. He wanted to recite his lesson correctly. He was ready to give everything he had to correctly recite rules of participle. But he got confused. He stood silently at his desk. He did not have the courage to look up and see his teacher.
I heard M. Hamel say to me, “I won’t scold you, little Franz; you must feel bad enough. See how it is! Every day we have said to ourselves, ‘Bah! I’ve plenty of time. I’ll learn it tomorrow.’ And now you see where we’ve come out.
M Hamel told Franz that he will not scold Franz. You must be feeling bad. Every day we tell ourselves that we have lot of time to study. I will study tomorrow. And now you have understood that there will be no tomorrow.
Ah, that’s the great trouble with Alsace; she puts off learning till tomorrow. Now those fellows out there will have the right to say to you, ‘How is it; you pretend to be Frenchmen, and yet you can neither speak nor write your own language?’ But you are not the worst, poor little Franz. We’ve all a great deal to reproach ourselves with.”
|Put off||Defer, Postpone|
|Pretend||To Claim, To say|
|Reproach ourselves with||Criticse ourselves, Repent ourselves|
M Hamel continues. That is the big trouble with people of village Alsace. People postpone learning to next day. And now Germans will tell you that you do not know how to read or write French. So why should you call yourself Frenchmen. But Franz, you are not the worst. We all need to repent ourselves.
“Your parents were not anxious enough to have you learn. They preferred to put you to work on a farm or at the mills, so as to have a little more money. And I? I’ve been to blame also. Have I not often sent you to water my flowers instead of learning your lessons? And when I wanted to go fishing, did I not just give you a holiday?”
M Hamel continues. Your parent were not serious about your education. They used to put you on some work to earn money – on a field or a mill. I am also to be blamed. I used to send you to my garden for watering flower plants. When I went for fishing, I used to give you holidays.
Then, from one thing to another, M. Hamel went on to talk of the French language, saying that it was the most beautiful language in the world — the clearest, the most logical; that we must guard it among us and never forget it, because when a people are enslaved, as long as they hold fast to their language it is as if they had the key to their prison.
|Logical||Based on rules|
|Guard it||Protect it|
|Hold fast to||Continue with, Attached|
M Hamel continues to talk many things about French language. He says that French is the most beautiful, clearest and logical language in the world. We must continue to speak French and always protect this. He says that when we continue to be attached to our own language, we have the key of our prison.
[By the last sentence he means that Prussian have occupied their village. Now they have ordered to use German as medium of teaching in schools. Both acts are as good as putting people in prison.]
Then he opened a grammar and read us our lesson. I was amazed to see how well I understood it. All he said seemed so easy, so easy! I think, too, that I had never listened so carefully, and that he had never explained everything with so much patience. It seemed almost as if the poor man wanted to give us all he knew before going away, and to put it all into our heads at one stroke.
|Put into our head||To make us understand|
|In one stroke||In one attempt|
Now M Hamel taught us grammar. Franz was surprised that he understood the lesson. It was very easy. Franz thought that he had never listened so carefully and Hamel had not explained so nicely. It appeared that Hamel wanted us to teach everything he knew. He wanted us to understand in one attempt.
After the grammar, we had a lesson in writing. That day M. Hamel had new copies for us, written in a beautiful round hand — France, Alsace, France, Alsace. They looked like little flags floating everywhere in the school-room, hung from the rod at the top of our desks.
|Round hand||Cursive writing|
After grammar, Hamel taught writing. He gave them new notebooks. France, Alsace were written on each note book. These words were written beautifully in the notebook. Franz felt that these words were written on small flags and these were everywhere in the class room.
[Author is trying to say that everybody felt so devoted and attached to their country and town.]
You ought to have seen how everyone set to work, and how quiet it was! The only sound was the scratching of the pens over the paper.
|Set to||To begin an activity|
Franz continues to think. One should have seen that everybody started writing earnestly. It was so impressive. It was very quiet in the class. Nobody was talking. One could hear sound of pen writing on paper.
Once some beetles flew in; but nobody paid any attention to them, not even the littlest ones, who worked right on tracing their fish-hooks, as if that was French, too. On the roof the pigeons cooed very low, and I thought to myself, “Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons?”
|Beetle||Type of insect|
Frenz describes further. Some beetles came into the class room. Nobody got disturbed. The young little kids were also writing their cursive writings. On the roof one pigeon made a sound. Franz wondered if Germans will order pigeons to sing in German medium. (This is a satire)
Whenever I looked up from my writing I saw M. Hamel sitting motionless in his chair and gazing first at one thing, then at another, as if he wanted to fix in his mind just how everything looked in that little school-room.
Whenever Franz looked up he noticed that M Hamel was sitting in chair. He was not making any movements. He was staring at things in the classroom one by one. Hamel was trying to see how things looked in the class room. (It means that Hamel had become emotional. He felt attached to everything in the classroom.)
Fancy! For forty years he had been there in the same place, with his garden outside the window and his class in front of him, just like that.
Franz continues to think. Imagine, Hamel had been in the same classroom for forty years. His garden was outside the window and his class was in front of him. All are still at the same place.
Only the desks and benches had been worn smooth; the walnut-trees in the garden were taller, and the hopvine that he had planted himself twined about the windows to the roof.
|Hopvine||A type of creeper|
|Twined around||Circled around|
Franz describes changes in last forty years. The benches and desks had worn out. These were smooth now. The walnut tress had become taller. Hamel had planted hopvines in his garden. These had grown. These had taken support of windows to climb up to roof. Nothing else had changed.
How it must have broken his heart to leave it all, poor man; to hear his sister moving about in the room above, packing their trunks! For they must leave the country next day.
|Broken his heart||Feeling very sad|
Franz continues to think. Hamel’s heart must be feeling very sad to go away. His sister was doing packing on the first floor. All could hear that sound. Because they were leaving the country next day.
But he had the courage to hear every lesson to the very last. After the writing, we had a lesson in history, and then the babies chanted their ba, be bi, bo, bu.
Franz describes. Franz was very sad but on that day he listened to all the lessons till their end. Franz says that this showed his courage. After lesson of writing, Hamel taught them history lesson. After that small kids recited a rhyme.
Down there at the back of the room old Hauser had put on his spectacles and, holding his primer in both hands, spelled the letters with them. You could see that he, too, was crying; his voice trembled with emotion, and it was so funny to hear him that we all wanted to laugh and cry. Ah, how well I remember it, that last lesson!
Franz describes. Mr. Hauser had put on his spectacles. He held his book of primary class in both hands. He was trying to recite spelling of words. He was crying. His voice was shaking. He was full of emotions. His voice was very funny (different). Everybody in the class room wanted to laugh and cry. (Example of mixed emotions) Franz remembered his last lesson.
All at once the church-clock struck twelve. Then the Angelus. At the same moment the trumpets of the Prussians, returning from drill, sounded under our windows. M. Hamel stood up, very pale, in his chair. I never saw him look so tall.
|All at once||Suddenly|
|Angelus||Prayer at church|
|Look tall||Look confident|
Franz describes. Suddenly, it was 12 O’clock by the clock at church. Prayers started at church. Prussian soldiers were returning from their exercise. Their bugle made sound near the window of class room. Hamel got up from his chair. He was looking yellow. He appeared very confident.
“My friends,” said he, “I—I—” But something choked him. He could not go on.
Hamel started saying, “My friends .. But something stopped him. He could not continue.
Then he turned to the blackboard, took a piece of chalk, and, bearing on with all his might, he wrote as large as he could —
“Vive La France!”
|Bear on||Taking support|
|Vive La France||Long Live France|
Franz describes. Then Hamel turned towards blackboard and took a piece of chalk. Taking support of all his power he wrote – Long Live France. He wrote in very large words.
Then he stopped and leaned his head against the wall, and, without a word, he made a gesture to us with his hand —
“School is dismissed — you may go.”
|Gestured||Indicated without speaking|
Hamel stopped and supported himself against the wall. Without speaking any word he indicated, “School is dismissed – you may go”.
[Please note he does not say that class is dismissed. He wanted to say that the school was now closed.]