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11th English Guide Lesson 1 Poem Once Upon A Time

11th English Guide Lesson 1 Poem Once Upon A Time

TN 11th English Solutions Poem Chapter 1 Once Upon A Time

11th English Guide Lesson 1 Poem Once Upon A Time. 11th Standard Samacheer kalvi guide English All Unit Book Back Question and answers. 11th TN Text Book Download PDF All Subject. Class 11 English Book Back and additional question and answers. 11th Free Online Test


Warm Up

(a) Guess what friendly words these two gentlemen exchange when shaking hands.


  • James: Hi John, great to see you. How are you? John: Hi James I’m fine. It is nice to see you.

(b) The children in the picture are watching an exciting sporting event, where their school team is winning. Suggest suitable utterances reflecting their feelings:


11th English Guide Lesson 1 Poem Once Upon A Time

First child : Sixer…

Second child : Ramesh, the invincible.

Third child : My School Team is great!

Fourth child : Hurrah!

Fifth child : Fantastic six!

Sixth child : Wow, what a lovely shot!

(c) Given a chance, any adult would wish to become a child again for many reasons. Fill the boxes with some of what you imagine could be the reasons.

e.g. I need not worry about project deadlines.                                   

I can wear my pajamas the whole day.                                   

I can sleep as long as I like.                                          


Reasons for wishing to become a child again.

e.g. I need not worry about project deadlines.

As man advances in years he ceases to be innocent.

Man doesn’t show his real feelings.

He reveals only that part of his personality which is worthy of acceptance.

I can wear my pajamas the whole day.

As everyone involves in “make believe” relationship, even good people are forced to wear mask, for the sake of keeping links alive.

Face is no more the index of the mind. It is inscrutable.

Even a loud laughter could conceal a plot to topple.

I can sleep as long as I like.

People keep on changing their face mask like dresses.

We don’t know who are our real friends.

If we are frank, we gain real enemies and false friends.

11th English Once Upon A Time Textual Questions

1 Based on your understanding of the poem answer the following questions in one or two sentences each:

Once upon a time, son

They used to laugh with their hearts

And laugh with their eyes:

But now they only laugh with their teeth

While their ice-block-cold eyes

Search behind my shadow.

There was a time indeed

They used to shake hands with their hearts

But that’s gone, son

Now they shake hands without hearts

While their left hands search

My empty pockets.

“Feel at home!”, “Come again”

They say, and when I come

Again and feel

At home, once, twice

There will be no thrice For then I find doors shut on me.

So I have learnt many things, son

I have learned to wear many faces

Like dresses – home face

Office face, street face, host face

Cocktail face, with all their conforming smiles

Like a fixed portrait smile.

And I have learned too

To laugh with only my teeth

And shake hands without my heart

I have also learned to say “Goodbye”

When I mean “Good-riddance”

To say “Glad to meet you”

Without being glad; and to say “It’s been

Nice talking to you”, after being bored.

But believe me, son

I want to be what I used to be

When I was like you. I want

To unlearn all these muting things

Most of all, I want to relearn


How to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror

Shows only my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs!

So show me, son

How to laugh; show me how

I used to laugh and smile

Once upon a time when I was like you.


Figure Of Speech In Once Upon A Time

Question (i) What do you associate with the title of the poem?


  • The title of the poem is associated with fables of the past when good prevailed not only in the society but in the hearts of people.

(ii) What is the relationship between the narrator and the listener?


  • The narrator is the father. The son is the listener.

(iii) What happens to the poet when he visits someone for the third time?


  • The third time the poet visits someone, the door is shut on his face.

(iv) Pick out the expressions that indicate conflicting ideas.


  • Conflicting ideas are expressed in the following phrases found in the poem: laugh with their teeth; shake hands without hearts; like a fixed portrait smile; “Glad to meet you” without really being glad and “It’s been Nice talking to you”.

(v) How does the poet compare his face with dresses?


  • One keeps changing the dresses everyday according to fashion and season; Likewise, the author keeps changing his faces. He has a different face for office, home, friends, party and street.

(vi) What does the poet mean when he says ‘good bye’?


  • When the poet says ‘good bye’ he really means “good riddance”.

(vii) What pleasantries does the poet use to fake cordiality?


  • The poet says “glad to meet you” when the poet means the visit is disturbing him. When one’s talk is boring, The poet says, “It’s nice talking to you”. He says “Goodbye” when he actually wants to say “good riddance”. The poet says the above to fake cordiality.

(viii) What does he desire to unlearn and relearn?


  • The poet desires to unlearn the hypocrisies or unreal things he has learnt to keep up appearances. He wants to relearn how to laugh and smile as he had done early during his own childhood days.

(ix) How is the poet’s laugh reflected in the mirror?


  • The poet’s laugh in the mirror shows only his teeth, not his heart or human warmth. The teeth appear like a snake’s fangs. The false laughter could conceal enough poison to kill a person.

(x) What does the poet long for?


  • The poet longs for the innocence of childhood days when he laughed with his heart.

(xi) Mention the qualities the child in the poem symbolizes.


  • A child is guileless. He /she is innocent. He multiplies his joy and halves his sorrow by sharing them with friends. A child does not have lasting anger and is quick to forgive and forget wrongs done to him. His friendship is genuine and laughter natural and spontaneous.

(2) Fill in the blanks choosing the words from the box given and complete the summary of the poem:

The poet Okara in this narrative monologue painfully condemns the (a) _______ displayed. by adults, both in their words and actions. Here, a father laments to his son about the negative changes that creep into the attitude and behaviour of humans, when they grow into (b) _______ He says that people used to be (c) _______ when they laugh arid the honesty would be reflected in their eyes. But, people of modem times laugh (d) _______ Their handshakes used to be warm and happy conveying a sense of togetherness, but now a days the handshakes have become a mere (e) _______ He warns his son that people are not trust worthy and have become so selfish that they are concerned only about their own (J) _______ benefits. People utter words of welcome and exchange (g) _______ but those words come only from the tip of their tongues and not from the depth of their hearts. Humans have learnt the art of changing their (h) _______ expressions according to situations merely to ensure social acceptance. They wear (i) _______ and exhibit multiple faces. The narrator admits that he has also changed into a hypocrite. However, he tells his son that though he (j) _______ his expressions, he does all these against his will. He says he wants to become a (k) _______ again and laugh genuinely. He wants to (k) _______ the unreal things and (m) _______ how to laugh as he had done once upon a time. When he laughs before the (n) _______ , he sees no expression. His teeth are bare like that of the (o) _______ of a snake. So, he asks his son to show him how to laugh the way he used to laugh, when he was a kid like him.


















(a) falsity

(b) adults

(c) genuine

(d) superficially

(e) duplicity

(f) personal

(g) pleasantries

(h) facial

(i) masks

(j) fakes

(k) child

(l) unlearn

(m) relearn

(n) mirror

(o) fangs

(3) A. Interpret each of the following expressions used in the poem, in one or two lines.

(i) laugh with their eyes


  • Eyes are the gateways of souls. The love for fellow humans was explicit in the eyes when people laughed with their eyes.

(ii) shake hands without hearts


  • In modem times, a handshake is just a sign of cordiality. There is no human warmth. So, the poet says people laugh without heart.

(iii) like a fixed portrait smile


  • People have a fixed ready made smile for all occasions. Their smiles are enigmatic and inscrutable. One can’t say whether smile is meant to exhibit warmth or love.

(iv) hands search my empty pockets


  • Human contacts are not focused on building or creating a bond of love. When courtesies are being exchanged one weighs the other’s social status and financial position. It is like a business ritual.

(v) to unlearn all these muting things


  • The hypocrisies of people who feign to have love and respect for fellow humans need to be dispensed with. The poet realizes that he must unlearn all superficial and unnatural behaviours like portrait smiles and heartless handshakes.

11th English Guide Lesson 1 Poem Once Upon A Time

B. Read the lines given below and answer the questions that follow:

Question (i)

‘But now they only laugh with their teeth,

While their ice-block-cold eyes… ’

(a) Who are ‘they’?


  • ‘They’ refer to modem people.

(b) Explain: ice-block-cold eyes


  • Ice-block cold eyes’ means eyes lacking a feeling of warmth or endearing feelings like love, sympathy and empathy.

(c) Identify the figure of speech used here.


  • ‘Ice block cold eyes’ has been used as a metaphor. It implies that the man who laughs with his ice cold block eyes has no real emotions. He looks through people.

(d) ‘Most of all, I want to relearn.

How to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror

Shows only my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs! ’

(a) Why does the poet want to relearn how to laugh?


  • The poet has forgotten to laugh naturally. He wants to relearn to laugh because his laugh in front of the mirror shows his teeth like a snake’s bare fangs.

(b) Whom does the poet want to relearn from?


  • The poet wants to relearn from his little son.

(c) Mention the figure of speech used here.


  • Simile is the figure of speech employed here in the last line.

C. Explain the following lines with reference to the context:

Question (i)

Once upon a time, son

They used to laugh with their eyes:


Reference : These lines are from the poem, “Once upon a time” written by Gabriel Okara.

Context : The poet says these words to his son while discussing his own happy,childhood days.

Explanation : The poet compares the behaviour of people in the past and those in modem times. He tells his son that people in the past used to laugh with their eyes. There was an expression of genuine warmth among f people when they laughed.

Question (ii)

There will be no thrice.


Reference : This line is from the poem, “Once upon a time” written by Gabriel – Okara.

Context : People would say “feel at home” “come again” to keep appearances.’ This would cease if one visits a third time.

Explanation : The semblance of cordiality will disappear if one visits for the third; time to meet the people who used the aforesaid kind words. In fact, they would shut the door on his face. One should not believe those words and visit their houses frequently. I have learned to wear my faces

Like dresses of changing their facial expressions according to the situations merely to ensure social acceptance. The poet also has started wearing faces like dresses, changing them according to fashion and season and almost daily. He regrets his hypocrisy but is helpless.

Question (iii)

I have learned to wear my faces

Like dresses…

Reference : These lines are from the poem “Once Upon a Time” written by Gabriel Okara.

Context : The poet says these words while admitting how he himself started putting on appearances to conform to the changed attitude of people

in modem times.

Explanation : The poet registers his displeasure over the negative changes that have influenced the behaviour of adults. The adults have mastered the art

Question (iv)

I want to be what I used to be

Reference : This line is from the poem “Once upon a time” written by Gabriel Okara.

Context : The poet says these words while contrasting the present hypocrisy with his past genuine relationships.

Explanation : During childhood the poet, like any child, laughed with human warmth. He used to express his love through his eyes. Now, he is changing his faces like dresses to suit the occasions and to ensure social acceptance. So, he wants to be what he used to be in the childhood.

Additional Appreciation Questions

(i) ‘I have learnt to wear many faces like dresses’

Question (a)

Who does ‘I’ refer to?


‘I’refers to the poet Gabriel Okara.

Question (b)

Why did the poet wear many faces?


The poet wore many faces to suit the situation and to be accepted by fellow humans in the society.

Question (c)

What is the figure of speech employed here.


Simile – faces like dresses.

(ii) ‘Cocktail face, with all their conforming smiles Like a fixed portrait’

Question (a)

Why does the poet use the term “Cocktail” for the face?


The face does not show a single emotion. It is no more the index of the mind. It is the combination of various emotions. So, the poet uses the term “cocktail face”.

Question (b)

What is the figure of speech employed in the first line?


Metaphor is the figure of speech employed in the first line.

Question (c)

Identify the figure of speech employed in the second line.


Simile is the figure of speech employed in the second line.

(4) Answer the following questions in about 100 – 150 words each:

Question (i)

Explain the things the poet has learnt when he grew into an adult.


The African poet observes a marked change in the altitude of Africans. Those who were once so genuine, warm and sincere, have now suddenly turned cold and hostile towards him. He realizes that the early values in African society like sincerity, good-naturedness, simplicity, whole-heartedness, hospitality, friendliness, originality and uniqueness have now drastically changed. The earlier warmth and heartfulness has gone. He finds himself behaving the same way as those around him. He has learnt to wear different faces for different occasions. He wears faces like dresses. He says not what his heart tells hftn. His smiles are also fake. He smiles only to be socially accepted. He has learnt to say “Good bye”. After being bored, he brings a fake smile and says “It’s been nice talking to you” when he meant “good-riddance”.

Question (ii)

This poem is nothing but a criticism of modern life. Justify this statement.


The poet’s understanding of adult society is extremely negative. The poet distinctly.portrays how people in modem times have become hypocrites and fake emotions to be socially accepted. The phrases of hospitality they use “feel at home” and “come again” are . fake that a third visit would be disallowed by the hosts. In modem times, people don’t value real emotions instead they value positions and possessions. Even while shaking r hands, they try to assess the material worth of a person. People don’t laugh with heart, Their ice-cold block eyes search the person they talk to. Most of them have acquired the skill of wearing a standard, deceitful, artificial smile on all occasions, i.e., “portrait smile”. Thus the poem is nothing but a criticism of modem life.

Question (iii)

‘Face is the index of the mind.’ Does this adage concur with the views of the poet?


Unlike the people of the past, people in modem times “laugh only with their teeth” while their ice-block cold eyes search for something. Now, people shake hands without hearts. There is no human warmth in social relations. While they shake hands, they look for. evidences to judge the financial status of a person. People say ‘feel at home’ and ‘come again’.

But if a person visits a third time he is not welcomed. They all have cocktail faces ready for all occasions. Their conforming smiles are like fixed portrait smile. They wear standard, deceitful, artificial smile for all occasions. They have faces like masks. The poet has learnt from them how to use faces like dresses, home face, office face, street face, host face etc. Their faces, like the teeth of the elephant, show only what is accepted. The ugly side of their personality is cleverly hidden behind their deceitful smiles and polite words. So, the poet’s views do not concur with the adage “Face is the index of the mind”.

Additional Questions

Question (i)

Discuss the central theme and tone of the poem “Once upon a time”.


The poem has mixed feelings of childhood, regret, and innocence. The child (son) in the poem is a symbol of innocence, purity, enthusiasm, happiness and genuineness which are lacking in modem society. The child also represents a group of people not affected by western culture and abides by their own culture. Innocence is a fading aspect in man’s society. People always appear deceitful and cunning. The child acts without any malice. The poet finds himself behaving the same way others behave. He is also wearing faces like dresses. He has lost his true cultural identity. He does possess a different portrait smile, the fixed look for different occasions, the unnatural smile plastered across his face. The poet is struck by a sense of selfloathing and regret turns to his son to help him unlearn all unreal things and help him regain his child-hood innocence.

11th English Guide Lesson 1 Poem Once Upon A Time

listening Activity

(5) First read the questions given below. Next, listen to an excerpt from a poem read out by your teacher or played in a recorder. Note how a child admires and praises the abilities of his/her father. Then tick the right answers from the options given.

(For listening to the poem refer to our website www.fullcircleeducation. in)


(by Edgar Albert Guest)

My father knows the proper way

The nation should be run;

He tells us children every day

Just what should now be done.

He knows the way to fix the trusts,

He has a simple plan;

But if the furnace needs repairs,

We have to hire a man.

My father, in a day or two

Could land big thieves in jail;

There’s nothing that he cannot do,

He knows no word like “fail.”

‘Our confidence” he would restore


Of that there is no doubt;

But if there is a chair to mend,

We have to send it out.

In conversation father can

Do many wondrous things;

He’s built upon a wiser plan

Than presidents or kings.

He knows the ins and outs of each

And every deep transaction;

We look to him for theories,

But look to ma for action

(i) When the needs to be repaired, they have to hire a man.

(a) heater

(b) furnace

(c) stove

(d) oven

Answer:(b) furnace

(ii) Father knows no word like

(a) fail

(b) frail

(c) jail

(d) snail

Answer:(a) fail

(iii) It is certain that the father would restore the of the family members.

(a) glory

(b) prosperity

(c) confidence

(d) happiness

Answer:(c) confidence

(iv) The father will not be able to mend a broken

(a) table

(b) bench

(c) chair

(d) stool

Answer:(c) chair

(v) The children expect their to guide them in action.

(a) mother

(b) father

(c) teacher

(d) guardian

Answer:(a) mother

Once Upon A Time About the Poet

Gabriel Okara (1921) is a Nigerian poet and novelist. His poems have been translated into many languages. Before establishing him self as an accomplished writer in 1960 he had written poems for Black Orpheus. He was conferred the best award for Literature at the Nigerian Festival of Arts in 1953. He was also honoured with the Commonwealth Poetry. Award. Okara’s speciality is that his poems emerge from everyday reality, merge with moments of delight and move back to reality making a complete circle. His prose and poetry were infused with African thought, folklore and imagery. Okara’s poems show great sensitivity, perceptive judgements and a tremendous energy. This poem “Once Upon a Time” reminds one of William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollection of Early Childhood”. Okara illustrates the changes a father has seen in him throughout his life which have been influenced by the way the society has changed.

Once Upon A Time Summary

Poet Okara condemns false appearances projected by people to safeguard their own interests. He bemoans the loss of genuine laughter and deep relationship between friends when he was a kid. He is saddened by the inconsistent nature of people and how successfully they take emotions to suit their convenience and personal ends. They show false warmth during daily exchanges of courtesy and wear masks to prevent discovery of their real feelings. The poet admits that he had also become a hypocrite like the rest and his reflection in the mirror does not reflect warmth of human love but the fangs of a snake deadly enough to kill fellow humans. So, he requests his son to teach the forgotten art of spontaneous and genuine laughter similar to his boyhood days.

Once Upon A Time Glossary


cocktail face – face showing mixed emotions conforming smiles like a fixed portrait smile – wearing a standard deceitful artificial smile on all occasions

fangs – teeth of a venomous snake, used to inject poison

good-riddance – expression of relief at being free of an unwanted person

ice-block-cold eyes – eyes lacking a feeling of warmth or endearing expression

laugh with their teeth – to fake a laugh, laugh without associated emotions

search behind my shadow – people are hypocritical and they don’t mean what they say

while their left hands search my empty pockets – evaluating the narrator’s worth and power or calculating how he could be exploited


deceitful – cunning

emotion – strong feelings

fake – untrue

falsehood – lie

genuine – real

hypocritical – insincere

hypocrite – dishonest person

inconsistent – changing

safeguard – protect

semblance – appearance

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