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Friday, 29 April 2016

The Schoolboy by William Blake


Literary Analysis (Summary)

The Schoolboy by William Blake is a romantic poem that appreciates the beauty of nature as a therapeutic tool that awakens one’s power of imagination against all societal constraints. Written in pastoral tradition, this poem explores the downsides of formal learning within the four walls of a classroom. The poem focuses on a little school boy whose imaginative vision is entrapped in the school system that restricts learning to the classroom, rather than a natural environment where his creative tendencies will develop.


The innocent boy rises in the summer morning radiating so much happiness with the twittering of birds on trees. He revels in the sound coming from the horn of the distant huntsman, while chanting a melodious tune with the skylark bird. To the little boy, he is having the best of time in such a “sweet company” of nature.

Interrupting this unusual delightful experience is the time for school. “It drives all joy away!” The little boy shows little or no interest in going to school because the teachers are cruel and the environment is unfriendly, while they spend the whole day in “sighing and dismay”. He feels the classroom is not a place where he belongs, unlike the natural environment that has made him happier earlier on. School children spend so many “anxious hours” in the class, ending up drooping. This tends to make learning very boring because they become worn-out and less interested in what is being taught. Hence, no result is achieved. In other words, the child is subjected to a rigorous system.

With this, Blake is agitating for an alternative method of education through non-formal learning. Blake believes in natural education that develops the child’s imaginative power and creative ability. One could deduce from the second and third paragraph that formal education is totally faulty and rigid as it does not bring out the best in children. This he believes that learning in nature could heal.

The fourth stanza begins with a rhetorical question, “How can the bird that is born for joy sit in a cage and sing?” Here, the child in school is compared to a bird in a cage. Of course, when a bird is trapped in a cage, it has no freedom to chirp joyfully like the uncaged skylark bird in stanza one. This comparison goes a long way to reveal that education in the classroom drains children’s ability to learn and be innovative. They are not free to explore their true nature. The “fears” they exhibit under “the cruel eye” of a tutor has kept their “tender wing” in bondage, unable to fly and delight in their “youthful spring”. The subjugation of the child in the classroom setting promotes a brand of education that inflicts psychological pain on the fragile “tender” children, unlike learning around nature where natural creativity flourishes.

In the last two stanzas, the little boy is not happy with his parents for forcing him to school. He believes his ability to learn and be successful in life is being “nipped” and “stripped” by the rigid nature of classroom learning. Here, the young boy is compared to a plant which is tender and vulnerable. So, it is unable to bear fruit. The nipping of the bud, blossoms blowing away and stripped tender plants show how the classroom subdues the intelligence and potentiality of little ones, thereby endangering their future. When they are separated from the cognitive inspiration that nature offers, the end result might be that of unproductivity and creative stagnancy.

The concluding lines of the poem raise burning and weighty questions about the future effects of that system of education that inhibits children’s creative imagination. When the foundation of the “tender” children is marred by such flaws in classroom learning, how do we expect them to produce fruits? Or “how shall we gather what griefs destroy” when the “winter appear”?

For William Blake, this calls for sober reflection for a nation that desires productivity from its youths. The concept of nature must be explored as it gives a long-lasting therapy to children’s learning. They easily learn while playing and exploring their natural environment.

Themes

The significance of natural education
The deficiency of the formal school system
Children requires freedom for self-discovery and development
The beauty of nature
Learning is a creative process
The aftereffects of faulty education

Note

The poem is a dramatic monologue, written in rhyme scheme (ababb).
It contains six stanzas of 30 lines. It examines the element of nature in proferring solution to learning and creative development.

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