Anna Laetitia Barbauld

A leading female voice in British Romantic Movement, Anna Laetitia Barbauld and her poetry are known not only for its profound beauty and craft, but also for the activism it encompasses. A saying in today’s time says that everything a woman writes is implicitly political; but in Barbauld’s poetry, politics can be both implicit and explicit. From the bold attempt to laud the concept of sublimity in “Summer Evening’s Meditation,” to the public provocation of the conventional muse figure in “Washing Day,” and to the argumentative, political manifestation in “Eighteen-Hundred and Eleven,” Barbauld takes a firm stance on her ground as a female literary figure.

Among the poems that were brought to light in class, the one I enjoyed the most was “Washing Day,” which is claimed to be written in very ordinary language though still encompasses poetic rhymes and meters. The intricacy between written literature and oral tradition is once again explained under Barbauld’s pen, corresponding with Burns’s. The content of poem cleverly dissects the conventional poetic muse into an ordinary domestic housewife. The poem is told from the perspective of the domestic muse, who deftly handles housekeeping chores and wittily comments her surroundings. The poem only has one long stanza of soliloquy; but towards the end, the speaker is remembering her grandmother and mother under the same circumstance, a female legacy that is passed down in heir although not necessarily. The washing day, the domestic muse, the nymphs with their feathers plucked up, the reality that male geniuses tend to overlook, is all crafted here in “Washing Day.”

Another reason I am so intrigued by this poem is about its connection with a contemporary poem I have read a while ago, “Degas’s Laundresses” by Eavan Boland. Although “Degas’s Laundresses” may require further contexts for analysis, both poems are about women washing clothes, one being overlooked but the other being observed. We may wonder, which one is worse, the forgotten femininity or the objectified femininity? But taking a step back, why do we define femininity with clothes-washing in the first place?

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