The School Boy: by William Blake - Summary and Analysis

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The School Boy

I love to rise on a summer morn,
When birds are singing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the skylark sings with me:
Oh what sweet company!

But to go to school in a summer morn, —
Oh 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 drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour;
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learning’s bower,
Worn through 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?

Oh father and mother, if buds are nipped,
And blossoms blown away;
And if the tender plants are stripped
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and care’s dismay, —

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?

Summary and Analysis


      'The School Boy' was originally in Songs of Innocence but when the combined Songs of Innocence and of Experience appeared, Blake put it in Songs of Experience. In occasional later copies, its reverts to the former book. We feel that it is appropriate in Songs of Experience for in it we see the elements of restriction on the care-free life of children. The overmastering and devitalizing ades of academic life dominate the scene.

'The School Boy' was originally in Songs of Innocence but when the combined Songs of Innocence and of Experience appeared, Blake put it in Songs of Experience
The School Boy


      The poem commences with the freshness and exuberant joy of a summer morning. The first few lines of 'The School Boy' are pervaded with the fragrance of 'Innocence' with a spontaneous overflow of the boy natural impulses and instincts. He says he loves to rise on a summer morning when the birds warble melodiously and from the distant fields the zealous huntsman blows his horn. The boy just for a moment pushes the bitter memories of his life at school into oblivion and indulges exultantly in the sweet company of singing skylark and other agents of spring. But the pleasure is momentary because what awaits him in the immediate future is the souring experience of his school life. On his euphoria falls a sudden curtain and he is lost among the clouds of experience. However hard he craves to join the revelling objects of nature in the summer, it is unavoidable that he goes to school It drives out all job to sit under the cruel eyes of the teacher. There, like all other children, he has to spend the tedious hours of boredom with feeble sighs of impatience. He has no escape from that daylong thraldom which is almost mandatory. And we see how ingeniously the poet has portrayed the picture of a worn out little 'scholar':

"Ah! then at times I drooping sit, 

And spend many an anxious hour."

      The transferred epithet 'anxious' (which belongs to the boy) comprises and fore tells the boy's ruffled heart. The child hardly finds the books of his studies delightful. He sits as if he were put to the stake when the pedantic teacher fires out his monotonous bulk of words. The school boy is a caged bird, bereft of the freedom which is his prerogative. The poet stretches the imagery of the bird when he projects the meek school boy as drooping his, wing and sitting wearily, all his youthful friskiness most pitifully suppressed. The boy goes on to lament his situation in which he is deprived of the juvenile enthusiasm. He is a nipped bud, a frozen blossom swept off by the chill currents of the deadly wind of oppression. If at the time of stimulating summer season the blossom and the tender plants are hued in paleness any scope of a fruitful autumn is hardly conceivable. It is not possible to restore what grief has destroyed; nor is it likely that the autumn can be adorned with fruits.

Destructive Forces of Experience:

       When experience destroys the state of childlike innocence, it puts many destructive forces in its place. To show this extent of destruction Blake places in Songs of Experience certain poems which give poignant contrast to other poems which appear in Songs of Innocence. For instance, in the first 'Nurse's Songs' he tells how children play and are allowed to go on playing until the light fades and it is time to go to bed. In this Blake symbolises the carefree play of the imagination when it is not spoiled by "senseless restriction". But in 'The School Boy' we hear the other side of the matter when experience has set to work :

"But to go to school in a summer morn,

Oh! it drives all joy away

Under a cruel eye outworn

The little ones spend the day

In sighing and dismay."

      The voice coming out is not that of a child who is exhausted by the excessive joy of sports, but of a boy for whom the tyranny of the school teacher is a nightmare. He can no longer share the happiness of the summer morning and he points out the menaces and dangers of school life pathetically. As Mr. C. M. Bowra points out, "it is this sort of...fear and denial of life which come with experience, breed hypocrisy and this earns some of Blake's hardest and harshest words."

The School: a Prison:

      The essential subject of the poem 'The School Boy' is the little school boy's worry about the repelling imprisonment at the school. His pleasant company includes the animate objects of the summer morning which he feels sad to part with. To think of his school life is an ordeal for him. The child's psychological portrayal of the school and his attitude have been. drawn by Blake most effectively. His sweet enjoyment of nature throbbing with mirth and summer festivity comes to a sudden end when he turns to think of his hours in the school. The nasty experience of the boy under the awe-inspiring, terrifying eye of the teacher robs the boy of all happiness. The boy is helpless and ordained to suffer the unthinking imprisonment of school. The only thing he can do is so sit quietly and sigh in dismay. At times he sits stooping, nervously anxious, in the class room. The child deems it the most perturbing thing to accustom his ears and nerves to the beat of the pedagogue's dreary lecture. What the boy prefers is to retire to the garden, where he can sit in the educating bower of nature, Blake obviously feels that schooling in the manner it is practised is a negation of youth. The school with its restrictions and discipline stifles the natural joy of children and forever damages their creativity and sensitivity.

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