THE SCHOOL BOY BY WILLIAM BLAKE SUMMARY/ANALYIS, POETIC DEVICES AND THEMES
THE SCHOOL BOY
I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the sky-lark sings with me.
Oh what sweet company.
But to go to school in a summer morn,
O! it drives all joy away Under a cruel eye outworn.
The little ones spend the day.
In sighing and dismay.
Ah! Then at times I dropping sit,
And spend many in anxious hour,
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learning’s bower,
Worn thro’ with the dreary shower.
How can the bird that is born for joy,
Sit in a cage and sing?
How can a child when fears annoy.
But droop his tender wing.
And forget his youthful spring?
O! father and mother, if buds are nip’d, And blossoms blown away,
And if the tender plants are strip d
Of their joy in the springing day.
By sorrow and care s dismay?
How shall the summer rise in joy.
Or the summer fruits appear?
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy, Or bless the mellowing year?
When the blasts of winter appear?
The poem be-cries the cagey situation of a young school boy. who is not allowed to be close to nature and live out a natural life of his own because of bottlenecks and inhibitions placed deliberately on his ways. The child is sad and melancholic because the parents place some regulations on his way, that make him lose contact with nature. The parents want him to go to school, but for him. going to school is not as important as being close and in direct contact with nature. The classroom education cuts his creativity into pieces. The teachers are hostile and unfriendly and his freedom is therefore curtailed. The beginning lines tell the whole story. Hear the poet-child,
‘I love to rise in a summer morn
When the birds sing on every tree.
The school boy enjoys and loves nature to a point of ultimate end, but would not like to go to school, where artificiality. bondage, restrictions, un-satisfaction abound. As he puts it.
‘But to go to school in a summer morn – Oh it drives all joy away’
The school boy does not like any restriction and oppression that is normally found in schools where teachers cane, or the usual morning bell or the power of the chalk on classroom board which could spell fear or induce sense of oppression or punishment. He asks “how can the bird that is born for joy/sit in a cage and sing”.
By this the school boy wonders how a child like him that should be out there fraternizing in an unrestrained environment of love and freedom will suddenly become a prisoner just because of school regulations and regimentation. He takes no interest in the classroom inhibitions as he declares: ‘Not in my book can I take delight/Nor sit in learning bower’. Rather he takes delight in the ‘sweet company of the ‘skylark’ bird with its melodious, and summer sweet sound of joy and beauty. This is a contrast to the enslavement and dread of the classroom environment which is worn through with its attendant ‘dreary shower. The child in comparing the fate of a bird in a cage, shows that he cannot explode his own potentials and natural gifts, if is limited by a knowledge that is achieved in a restricted enclosure. He remarks “How can a child when fears annoy/But droop his tender wing/And forget his youthful spring“. The big argument continues in the fifth stanza when the child-poet powerfully gears up his stand to be left alone to embrace nature in its totality, instead of the parents stopping or barricading nature, he puts it in a succinct manner:
“O! Father and mother if birds are nipped
And blossoms blown away;
And if the tender plans are stripped
of their joy in the spring day
By sorrow and care’s dismay”
The child’s freedom could translate into limitless opportunities which when restricted could spell doom. The last stanza contains series of rhetorical questions even as the poet person argues in favour of the school boy whom he says cannot flourish and develop fully if he does not bond with or have recourse to, nature. If childhood joys and freedom are inhibited owing to implosion or deluge of commando or regimented life of school that prevents the child from being close to nature, then adult life will suffer. The child needs time to explore the limitless opportunities that abound in nature other than the so-called education which is not helpful when the chips are down. As the poet puts it:
How shall the summer arise in joy,
Or the summer fruits appear? Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy,
Or bless the mellowing year
When the blasts of winter appear?
The time frame is 18″ century where nature is idealized and the physical setting is England. The romantic poets adore nature a lot and Blake is one of them as he contrast the world of flower, trees, birds with artificialities of polluted world of education.
DICTION: The language is simple, direct, accessible and conversational, the Poem is structurally divided into six stanzas of five lines each with a total of thirty lines. The rhyme scheme is ABABB in the six stanzas of the poem with end rhymes that make it a quintet poem. The first three stanzas talk about a child who dislikes going to school because of regimented style of school life where rules, conventions and discipline hold sway. The result is that he fails to fulfil his natural heart desires and ambition. The second is the knowledge that stringent rules can inhibit a child’s growth.
Transferred Epithet: Exemplified in line 12 when the poet says “…And spend many in anxious hour” which shows that it is the poet that is anxious and not hour. The literary effect of this device is anxiety and punch. Personification: The clarity of the poem is further enhanced by the use of the following personified instances,
- When the birds sing on every tree…/And the skylark sings with me’. Here a bird is given human attribute of singing.
- And if the tender plants are striped/Of their joy in the springing day’. Plants joyful are made to have the ability to be joyful
Apostrophe: In the following lines, parents who are absent are made to be present. It is a direct address which is the hallmark of Apostrophe. Example is “O father and mother if buds are nipped”
Dramatic Monologue: The poem itself is a statement made by an individual character, that is, absence of dialogue. The school boy gives us the reasons why he does not want to go to school and his preferred choice of being close to nature.
Alliteration: The lines of the poem supply some measure of music and rhythm as a result of the following lines:
1.”…the sky…sings (‘s’alliterates)
2. …bird…born” (‘b’alliterates)
3. “sit…and sing” (‘s’ alliterates)
4. “blossoms blown” (b’alliterates)
Rhetorical Question: When rhetorical questions are asked, we are more anxious to know what happens next. Here in the following lines, our anxiety increases and we feel empathized for the worries of the child. Examples:
1. How can the bird that is born for joy/Sit in a cage and sing’
2. How shall the summer rise in joy/Or the summer fruits appear
3. Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy or bless the mellowing year/When the blasts of winter appear?”
Imagery: Various images in the poem convey the child’s sadness at one point, and joy in another, for instance the following images/symbols convey the child’s joy, ‘love’, birds sing’, ‘skylark sings’, ‘sweet company’, while the following words and expressions tell of the child sorrows. ‘cruel eye’, ‘sighing and dismay’, ‘dreary shower’, ‘cage,” sorrow’, griefs, blast of winter’, ‘annoy’, ‘droop’ etc.
Anaphora: The use of Anaphora is a literary device to achieve emphasis, used in the poem in the following lines:
Nor in my book can I take delight
Nor sit in learning’s bower ‘And blossoms blows away
And if the tender plants are stripped’
‘Or the summer fruits appear
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy Or bless the mellowing year
Metaphor: It is exemplified in the following lines:
1. “The distant huntsman winds his horns’
2. “But droop his tender wing’
3′ And forget his youthful spring’
4.’…sit in learner’s bower’
5. …bird that is born for joy’
in these examples, comparisons are clear without the use of like’ or ‘as’
In the first lines above the distant huntsman’, is a reference to the bird which like a foreign visitor suddenly burst his horns and wings and begins to sing.
The child in number two above is said to, like the bird, ‘droop his tender wing”. Again, the youthful years of the child springs like the weather spring, while learner’s bower’ refers to the classroom. The bird’ is a metaphor of the boy.
Assonance/Consonance: While the following words assonate to bring in rhythm in the poem “love-summer’, when every’, ‘distant…wind’, the following consonance does same in these expression. blossom blown’ ‘b’ is in consonance, and ‘n’ sound echoes in “And spend many an anxious hour’.
Inversion: There is a literary style of reversal of sentence. which makes us curious in reading a statement for instance, ‘And then at times/drooping sit’. Repetition: The repetition of some words/expressions make the line emphatic and definite in the following: ‘Oh!’, “bird’ shall, hower’, ‘nor, tender, ‘dismay’, ‘appear’, how can’
Tone/Mood: The tone of happiness gives way to tones of anger and lamentation of the fourth stanza and the tone invariably determines the moody state of the poem. There is a contrast in the poem.
- Theme of formal and informal education : The Natural unpolluted environment which is the natural habitat of poets, especially romantic poets who love nature so much is used as a point of contrast in the poem to ward off the idea of formal education with its attendant inhibitions. In the poem therefore, there is the idealization of love for nature as displayed by the child as a contrast to control and conventions which is the by-product of school education championed by the parents of the boy.
- Parental Control: The parents in the poem are presented as accessory after the fact. That is those who co-join a criminal to commit a crime. A repressive system occasioned by formal school environment finds expression because the parents themselves send their children to the same oppressive school system. They inhibit the growth of their children by sending them to school, instead of allowing the children grow at their own pace with nature which would have been a treasure-trove of imaginative vision. The child will grow to be happy, and his natural abilities will exfoliate if kept in an unpolluted environment of nature and the like.
- The Beauty found in Nature: As is characteristics of romantic poets, in this poem, nature is adored and glorified. The poet would like to be close to nature instead of the odium of “sighing and ‘dismay’ which going to school offer, and social deprivations of sitting in a cage and spending ‘anxious hours, which are found by going to school. In nature is found true happiness and joy where ‘skylark sings’, ‘birds sing, bird born for joy, the summer fruits appear and winter appear.
- Childhood innocence: Childhood innocence in the poem is presented in the images of blossoms’, ‘child’, youthful spring, and the freedom of imagination offered by closeness to nature shows the child’s complete trust in his childhood unpolluted world until betrayal and restriction by the parents occur ‘And the pollution comes through ‘cruel eye‘. cage, etc.