Anna Laetitia Barbauld Notes and Thoughts

  • Poets and meditation
    • Leaving the locale in to the mind in order to
      • Meditate, think of a number of things
    • In “A Summer Evening Meditation”
      • Very feminine and female centered
      • She populated her poem with female figures- metaphorically appropriating male mythology
  • On meditation
    • Was thought that women could not meditate- not capable of deep thought, unable to produce anything of the sublime
    • However, in this poem, she is claiming and attempting to create phrasing that captures the sublime
    • So in this poem, both meditation and the sublime are featured- all concepts not credited to women
  • “Embryo god”= male and female qualities, reflecting on creativity as a mothering/maternal process
    • The old idea of a terrifying, threatening god but this poem suggests, almost begs for a gentler face of god or of a maker.
    • She also very much combines contradictory ideas to conjure desperate emotion- “dread perfection”
    • The verse reflecting the movement of thought and reflection (in reference to the actual structure of the poem)
      • Barbauld does this pretty much way earlier than other Romantic poets
  • Reservations?
    • The first part of the poem is very clouded with allusions
      • Mostly to classical figures- and the Romantics would usually try to avoid this
    • Counterpoint- Abigail
      • She isn’t using these figures as muses, not imitation
        • They are very intentional and important for the setup of the nature of this poem
        • Diana for instance pushing the Sun, the male influence- very active and subjective
        • Venus is usually seen as a competitive figure but she is not mentioned in relation to any male figure, or female figures, just to exist- as soft and beautiful and “trembling”
        • Eve but no Adam
          • She might counter that women are not allowed to have these higher thoughts because of the oppression of these male figures
          • “Wander into sublimity”
  • “Washing Day”
    • Taking the mundane and making it extraordinary
  • “The Mouse’s Petition”
    • The ideas of liberty and insurrection
    • “Barbauld’s poem, “The Mouse’s Petition”, was written in response to her friend, Dr. Priestley’s animal experimentation.  Concerns for animal rights first appeared in the Enlightenment and Romantic periods.  A very literal reading of “The Mouse’s Petition” denounces the experimentation on animals for scientific development. Allegedly, she found a mouse in a cage and placed this poem inside the cage for Dr. Priestley to read.  Although Barbauld denies the meaning of her poem was a condemnation of Dr. Priestley’s inhumanity, her contemporary readers misread the poem as a judgment upon Dr. Priestley.  She explains, “her poem was about ‘mercy’ and ‘justice’” instead of humanity and cruelty (Ready 92). Barbauld’s status as woman in the Eighteenth Century caused the public read her poem wrongly by adding a great deal of sensibility to the piece, assuming she became emotional due to the cruelty imposed upon the animals and due to her gender.  In reality, Barbauld was attempting to make a political statement as well as a gender statement proving that women can be a part of the scientific realm.

      The use of first-person narration from the perspective of the mouse gives the animal the ability to “suffer, feel, and reason” (Ready 97).  The mouse begs his captivator to “hear [his] pensive prisoner’s prayer,/For liberty that sighs” (Barbauld 1-2).  The personification of the mouse by making the “wretch” “tremble at th’ approaching morn” waiting for his fate evokes the image of the impoverished and enslaved (Barbauld 4, 7).  Upon first reading, one may assume Barbauld refers to women and gender inequality, but the mouse is more easily related to the poor (Ready 108). The mouse appeals to liberty and inane rights by telling his reader to “cast round the world an equal eye,/ And feel for all that lives” (Barbauld 27-28).  As a woman, Barbauld struggled to break through the gender molds society imposed upon women.  Barbauld used her poem to critique the treatment of the enslaved and impoverished, as well as critique the inequalities thrust upon women within the realm of science.”


  • “Eighteen Hundred and Eleven”
    • Insurrection against the state
    • Barbauld was savagely criticized for this poem
      • A woman quantificating about wars, history, and politics? Ridiculous
      • She seems to almost want to teach the reader about these issues and that is definitely an overstep for a woman at this time
        • Seems to be incredibly well versed specifically in history
        • This poem is almost like an argument in verse- rhetorical
        • Argumentation in poetry is already established by the time this poem is written
          • Romantic lyric- poet overhearing his thoughts/ poem in conversation with the self
          • In this poem, she is not in conversation in herself
            • Poet as the prophet- providing an argument for the poet as prophetic and moralistic (employing the public voice for a private vision/critique)
            • Marries the ideas of classical/private poetry with the public
              • Interesting enough- public voice reaching to the upper echelon
              • She is speaking to those in authority
      • A thesis driven essay-> this is a thesis driven poem
      • The Aesthetes would hate this b/c of the use of poetry a beyond “art for art’s sake”
    • A Critique on England
      • She is speaking of England as a patriot, as one who wants to see her country to be bettered
      • Has a soft spot for the have-nots in England and before
      • Leaves thee, perhaps, to visit distant lands,/And deal the gifts of Heaven with equal hands
        • Essentially she is saying there is no natural or Heaven-given design for inequality  
        • HOWEVER there is still some pride that she holds in the colonial strength of England
          • But she warns that eventually this will wane- that knowledge and power is not solely a British thing
          • If you teach your colonial subjects and states that this is the only way to do things, you establish a cycle of violence that will only continue with the next big state power
          • From line 259-305- she lists civilization after civilization that collapsed and crumbled under their own hubris and oversight
            • 305- she praises London for its fair laws but after this…..
              • That very London that she praises is framed in a very different, miserable light
              • She sees this as a natural evolution from war and violence


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