Mr Bunce, My Hero

Here is – loosely speaking – today’s assignment for Writing 201 Poetry. It is supposed to be a ballad about my hero, and should include anaphora or epistrophe – repetition of words or bundles of words at the beginning or end of lines. This is what, unexpectedly, came out of my word-processor.
image (modified) from

He was a teacher amongst men
A God amongst teachers

That day we saw him for the first time,
walking along the corridor towards us in low-slung mustard coloured trousers of a style that no teacher had ever before dared to wear, a shirt that must have been designed that morning and
a belt
a belt of leather
a belt of leather with a big shiny buckle.
we didn’t think we had to
all line up neatly outside the classroom for this fashionista
who couldn’t be a teacher, wearing
a belt of leather with a big shiny buckle.

In the English classroom I soon learned:

as he rolled up his sleeves to get down to business;
that the veins on his arms stood out

as he asked our names and examined our
faces in order to remember who we all were;
that his eyes popped slightly

as he hunched up one leg, and placed his
foot on the desk where he sat;
that his socks toned perfectly with his trousers

as he walked around the classroom, unable to
stay still for long because his subject thrilled him so,
that I could see my face in his big shiny buckle

as he treated us all with respect, and quickly gained our respect,
that he was a born teacher

as he turned his attention to me
that he was beautiful

The day he lit indoor fireworks for us to study and describe
he set the waste-paper bin on fire

and my half formed heart burned for him;
yearned for a coming-of-age

My friend cried sometimes at break times, wailing that she wept herself to sleep over
her unrequited love for Davy Jones
pretty little lead singer of the Monkees

“hey hey,” I wanted to whisper
“I got something to say. I’m in love with Mr Bunce.”

He led us outside on warm days to show us what outside really looked and sounded like, and it looked and sounded different when he was there.
He read us nature poems and they came alive just for him.

Sometimes on cold days when there was no spare classroom, we walked from the youth hut in the school grounds, to the crush hall, to the canteen, and then to the assembly room, finding that everywhere was in use, so we would finally settle ourselves on the floor of the stage, with a backdrop of stored musical instruments.

I could have walked with him forever.

I was his top student. He gave me B+ while others got A’s, because he knew they were doing their best, but that the next piece I wrote would be better than my last. But the one time that I surpassed even his expectations
he gave me an A+ for exceptional work.

A stood for all right
B was better
A+ was amazing

He asked me, and only me, to give him copies of my writings for him to keep. A friend typed them out for me.

I took them home, and furtively I
pressed my lips to every page.

I waited shyly after class, and handed the wad of paper to him. It was neatly stapled together into a book. I was dazzled by his shiny buckle, as I looked at my face in it.

I was twelve years old and had no
interest in life below the buckle

He spoke to me of words, and as he did so, he leaned back and placed his hands behind his head.
My eyes were drawn to a dark patch in the hollow of his arm. As I stared, he became discomfitted. His left hand flew protectively to hide the perspiration, and he said:
“I’m sorry… I’m… I…”

It was our most intimate moment.
I wanted to place my dizzy head in his
armpit, and feel the damp warmth.

once when we were on a classroom hunt a gaggle of sixth form girls trashed past us wearing their navy uniforms like ladies of the night, and one boldly asked him if he was going to be at the disco on Saturday.
Inside I raged with jealousy although I knew he would never behave incorrectly.

I wanted to be so bold, so old,
I wanted him to dance me into
a storybook of my making.

He taught me to be a polish refugee when I had to write a war time story.
to be a night-prowling cat called Blanche
to be an old man, waiting to be taken to a care home.
He taught me to write as I had never written before.

He knew that it didn’t matter what passion drove me to write better than ever before;
only the words mattered.

© Jane Paterson Basil


53 thoughts on “Mr Bunce, My Hero

  1. I just… there are no words. This poem is beautiful. The relation you describe is so perfectly innocent and intimate and I as the reader can absolutely feel that. That attraction to what he was and what he stood for in the characters life was so immense. Truly beautiful and moving. Thank you for this poem.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Mr Bunce (real name I wonder?) sounds lovely in more ways than one. He’d be very proud of you now.
    I loved my English teacher, too. She was called Mrs Shimwell and she was the most enthusiastic teacher I’d ever met. She would recommend tough, challenging books and become very animated when we discussed them afterwards.
    Years ago, I wrote to my old school and got them to pass on a letter telling her what an inspiration she was. Got a lovely letter back, too, saying she remembered me and wondered how I’d got on after leaving school. I’ve always been very pleased I was able to thank her.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. thank you. Yes, that was his real name, and i have tried to contact him to no avail. My mother said that he was bound for great things,which makes me wonder if he is still alive, as there’s no sign of him on the internet.


  3. This brought back SO many memories of crushes on teachers. But the poem is much more than that because in between the line where you were crushing, there was learning. It’s too bad you can’t find him. He would treasure this poem beyond measure. And you should have it published somewhere!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. A magnificent prose ballad of a magnificent teacher. If every child had just one like him, the world would be a better place. I can relate to your fascination, for I had several teachers like him, who inspired and challenged me. I hope I did the same when I was teaching.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect you were an excellent teacher. Sadly, in all of my years at school, I only had that one good teacher. Apart from him the best of them were mediochre, most of themhaving dragged themselves to our town as shattered and shell-shocked war victims at a time when the school had just been built,and it was desperate for anybody who had any vague knowledge of anything. I kid you not! they flew into incoherant rages, slipped away to hide in corners, stared vacantly at their hands… some were bullied mercilessly by the older boys, and there were a few long absences while teachers had what were called ‘nervous breakdowns’. I left school at 15 having learned little except in those subjects i was good at.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, Jane. I have always believed that, in the midst of the mediocrity and melodrama of schools and their ‘teachers,’ having even one excellent person who inspires you and sees your promise, is enough. You still love learning, reading, writing, so I’d say he more than fulfilled his calling! Isn’t it crazy, though, how children are subjected at impressionable ages to some of the most destructive and damaging behaviors of back-door teachers (those who back into teaching to escape the real world…)?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. OK so this might sound like a backhanded compliment – but it really isn’t.
    I usually scan very quickly through posts, the odd one catches my attention, very rarely do I read to the end of anything more than a few paragraphs.
    I was with you all the way – funny how the intimacy of mundane sweaty armpits is much more real than nearly all flirting – especially with a teacher/pupil.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Jane you are brazen ! I like you too.
        In the context of abuse and peadophelia I suppose we all think about risk and weirdness. But sometimes – and I think it is sad that we’ve forgotten this – sometimes there are just strange passing moments of innocent intimacy.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. These days I say it like I see it, as long as it’s not unkind.
          The idea of abuse hadn’t crossed my mind. I was thinking more of the contemporary objection to sweat.
          Strange passing moments of innocent intimacey…what a lovely phrase.

          Liked by 2 people

            1. That’s my thinking too. And there were so many things I didn’t say to people, always assuming that they could be said tomorrow. Then one day I’ve realised that I’ve left it too late. I go to ridiculous lengths to stop it from happening again.

              Liked by 1 person

  6. Another awesome piece and a beautiful tribute to your teacher! Fireworks inside… He was a maverick even for those times, and judging by your poem, an incredibly fantastic teacher! That shines through your writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think he set fire to the bin on purpose. It happened just after he said “I must be careful not to set fire to the bin. It was in our first week with him, and I believe he knew that it would guarantee out devotion – for an attractive teacher (and he was that! phew!) girls are easy to get on side, but boys are harder work.
      I’ve come over all unnecessary – he was a dream! Adorable!
      Harrumph… where was I?


  7. the line what he taught me is wonderful

    “He taught me to be a polish refugee when I had to write a war time story.
    to be a night-prowling cat called Blanche
    to be an old man, waiting to be taken to a care home.
    He taught me to write as I had never written before.”

    great ending

    Liked by 1 person

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