Anna Laetitia Barbauld

Summer Evening’s Meditation
  • Conversational poems – meditative or fanciful reflection that are based in the poets locale, expands to explore bigger ideas, then returns back to the locale
  • With Romantics, the conversation is with or within themselves
  • Populated by females – goddesses and natural female figures
  • Meditation – it was not thought that women were capable of meditation, philosophy, profound or sublime thought
  • Takes up political matters and taboo subjects
  • Her universal scale of thought about space is shocking
  • “dread perfection” – fear and awe of the sublime and the origin and heart of life
  • Her structure of punctuation flows and draws to eye fluidly – just as her movement of thought goes
  • Organic verse – form and verse is organic to their subject
  • Romantics would consciously try to avoid alluding back to mythological/Greek figures, which she does until about line 20
Washing Day
  • Calls on Muses, tongue in cheek, jokingly calling on the domestic Muses
  • Uses colloquial language to describe an ordinary day and common scene
  • Idea that you should write poetry in the language of the ordinary people
  • Poem is in meter and rhyme
  • Doesn’t mention herself until line 55 – a reflection on a memory
  • Such great detail in individuals: animals, men, washing women, herself as a child
  • Poet is seen of prophetic voice of gods – this is not a subject “fit” to be written about in a poem
  • Questions large ideas such as women’s roles, importance of play/frivolity, bubbles in lines 75-85
The Mouse’s Petition
  • very formal meter with alternating rhymes
  • gestures towards the importance of survival
  • 1773 – before American and French revolutions, and voice concerns of freedom and liberty
  • talks of suppression, imperialism, etc. through the position of the mouse
  • Addresses much larger issues than a mouse’s concerns
  • What resources should be available to everybody
    • contamination and careless pollution
  • Tennant of romantic movement – preservation of nature (ecocriticists write on it)
  • Connection between all living beings
Eighteen Hundred and Eleven
  • extremely controversial when written
  • critical of British empire
  • A woman pontificating on war and politics – commenting on history and projecting into the future
  • Warns against continuing in this way – predicts the loss of great advances and accomplishments
  • “Bounteous in vain” – matron producing children to die in war
  • An argument/criticism in verse – part of romantic tradition
  • Poet as prophet – employing public voice in poetry to advance private argument/critique
  • Audience: power and elite
  • Provides observations, examples, events to support her argument  – like a thesis-driven essay
    • Thesis: all this conflict is in vain, destructive, contradictory
  • Positive observations – contemporary and historical aspirations, criticizes as a lover of the country, sympathy and soft spot for the peasant class
  • Underlying argument that by teaching colonized societies that violence is the only was to achieve success, they will follow suit – disease of violence is also spread with knowledge and commerce
  • Presents the suggestion that all of these concepts are shifting to America

Response – 

Barbauld’s language is impressive, as are her observations. The most striking aspect of her reflections in Summer Evening’s Meditation was her grand, sweeping imagination of the universe, most especially the virgin suns and alternate solar systems which more modern science has proved to be out there. Before there are these sweeping discoveries, Barbauld dreams them up in her poetry. It reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s impressive predictions of technological advances in Fahrenheit 451. On the other hand, it was not surprising to me that she chose to use female figures to describe the natural surroundings because she would see the natural power and beauty of the female soul in nature.

Washing Day was a delightful depiction of a familiar scene from not only her childhood, but likely most of her audience. Even though this particular scene of washing day is not completely familiar to me, it still resounds as a common scene of the” woman’s domain” and  natural household occurrences such as a sulking child or an innocently destructive animal. While she is showing a common or “low” subject, she treats it as a poetic, sublime which brings a new light of familiarity to the domestic aspect of a woman’s life at the time.

In The Mouse’s Petition, Barbauld continues to demonstrate her affection for the lower class and the natural world. She also uses the natural world to draw connection and alliances between the elite and the peasant class. It does not surprise me that ecocritics find themselves writing about this poem.

We also see her affection for the lower class – the foundation of civilization- in Eighteen Hundred and Eleven. Her observations on history, class, and colonization are shockingly deep and I have no doubt that she received criticism for it because she was a woman. The common images of mothers, dying soldiers, etc. are very strong and provide good examples of all of her points.


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