“A Summer Evening’s Meditation:”
A Precursor to the Structure of the Greater Romantic Lyric
Anna Laetitia Barbauld was born in YEAR to dissenting schoolmasters. Her parents were Protestants dissenting from the Anglican Church and its rituals. Barbauld herself was against organized or established religion and argued that everyone who read the Bible had the right to interpret it according to his or her own terms. As a writer and teacher, she espoused causes like the freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience, and she founded a boarding school alongside her husband. Barbauld wrote revolutionary texts for children’s education, was a well-known writer of poems and essays, and contributed immensely to the study and analyzation of the importance of the novel as a serious art form.
Her poem, “A Summer Evening’s Meditation,” bears several similarities in structure to what would come to be known as the Greater Romantic Lyric, a shining example of which is Wordsworth’s “Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey.”
Barbauld’s poem begins with a rich description of the scene:
‘TIS past! The sultry tyrant of the south
Has spent his short-liv’d rage; more grateful hours
Move silent on; the skies no more repel
The dazzled sight, but with mild maiden beams
Of temper’d light, invite the cherish’d eye
To wander o’er their sphere; where hung aloft
DIAN’s bright crescent, like a silver bow
New strung in heaven, lifts high its beamy horns
Impatient for the night, and seems to push
Her brother down the sky.
(Opening lines from “A Summer Evening’s Meditation, 1773)
And the poem ends with a contingent resolution, in that the “glories of the world unknown” will be revealed, but as yet, those glories are still unknown:
Drest up with sun, and shade, and lawns, and streams,
A mansion-fair and spacious for its guest,
And full replete with wonders. Let me here
Content and grateful, wait th’ appointed time
And ripen for the skies: the hour will come
When all these splendours bursting on my sight
Shall stand unveil’d, and to my ravish’d sense
Unlock the glories of the world unknown.
(Closing lines from “A Summer Evening’s Meditation, 1773).
Here, we see structural elements of the Greater Romantic Lyric, in which the speaker opens with a description of the scene, a meditation on the natural environment in relation to the self, and continues into a description of some problem, some dissonance, before closing with a contingent resolution, perhaps spiritual or moral. Years before Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats, we see Barbauld venturing into the realm of the Romantic.