The School Boy By William Blake

Word Meanings

Nostalgia: a longing for a happier or better time in the past. The term coined by Johannes Hofer in 1688 (Homesickness)

Bower: Shady place under tree (Metaphor for school)

Drooping: sad, bend from fatigue

Annoy: annoyance, displease

Nipp’d: clip, snap

Stripp’d: Peeled off

Atheism: The belief that God does not exist.

Summary

“The Schoolboy” is a poem included in William Blake’s collection Songs of Innocence. It is told from the perspective of a young boy going to school on a summer day. The boy loves summer mornings, but he had to go to school unwillingly. He sits at his desk in boredom and cannot pay any attention to the lesson in the class because he wishes to play outside in natural surroundings. In the fourth stanza, the speaker asks, “How can the bird that is born for joy, sit in a cage and sing?” Here the author has compared young children, so full of energy and happiness, to songbirds, who deserve to free and fly on the winds. But, like songbirds trapped in a cage, children trapped in a classroom cannot express themselves, cannot capitalize on all that excess energy, and therefore their potential gets wasted.

The speaker addresses parents in the final two stanzas, asking how “…if buds are nipped/ …and if the tender plants are stripped/ of their joy…How shall… the summer fruits appear?” That is, if children are stripped of their ability to play and have fun in the summer season, how shall they grow and develop to the fullest extent?

This poem is about allowing children to be children – allow them to play and run outside, to experience the benefits of nature and of the seasons. This practice is equally as beneficial to them as academic learning.

Stanza-wise Explanation

Stanza 1

The speaker in this poem is a young boy who is joyful and likes to awake in the fresh and delightful summer morning. Further, describing the beauty of the summer morning, the boy likes the chirping of the birds on every tree, the sound of horn blown by the hunter from a distance field and sweet songs of skylark (bird).

Stanza-2

It is a matter of utmost disappointment for the speaker to attend the school in such a sweet summer morning where actually he wishes to enjoy the delight of summer. He is tired and even puzzled under the strict supervision of his teacher. The phrase outworn refers to the eyes of the teacher that actually tires the boy. Instead of enjoying the pleasures of summer, the child has to compulsory attended the school where he spends his day in boredom and sadness.

Stanza-3

The child expresses his tiredness. He sits unwillingly in the sea of boredom. The child keeps under control the attack on him by the harsh personality of the teacher and unnecessary lectures (shower of meaningless words) and his urge for unchecked freedom. The learning’s bower refers to a garden where the child can be taught interestingly, only if nature accompanies him instead of the school teacher.

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Stanza-4

Again, the poet compares a child with a bird. According to his view, a bird which is born cheerful and fun-loving can never sing sweet songs, if caged. Similarly, a child if remained under the umbrella of annoying fear and tension, the distrust of his teacher can never enjoy the natural instincts of joy and playfulness. Indeed a world full of rigid course of discipline will ruthlessly take away the beautiful springs (the childhood days) of a person’s life.

BY SORROW AND CARE’S DISMAY;

The boy complains to the highest authority, to father and mother, if a budding child is picked and swept off in the early stage of life in an ocean of sorrow, where there is no one to care for. If unhappiness crushes the sensitive plants, beautiful and the newborn buds, summer can never be joyful.

Stanza-6

If care and concern rule over the plants, flowers, birds, such a summer will be dry and will bear no fruit. The child enquires his parents as to how they can win back what pain/sadness has destroyed. If the plants perish/dry-up due to the pain/sorrow, no fruit will be there in the season of autumn (mellowing year). This implies that if childhood pleasures and joys are restricted, one has to be very sure that adult life will be absolutely dry and unproductive.

Theme of The School Boy by William Brake

The poem the schoolboy discuss a boy’s repelling imprisonment at his school his company from the animate objects of the summer morning (birds, flowers etc.) to the inactive object of his school is indeed a matter of concern and grief. School life is suffering for him.

The boys filling of summer festivity is countered by the terrifying eye of the teacher that robs from him all his childhood happiness. School is nothing but a prison that negates the playful activity of childhood. The restriction of an imposed in school forms a hurdle for the natural expression of creativity and forlorn the essence of genius-ness.

Questions and Answers

Comprehension: I

1. Who, do you think, ‘I’ refers to in the poem?
Ans. I refer to the poet, William Blake in the poem.

2. ‘Sweet company’ refers to
Ans. Skylark, Huntsman’s horn and bird’s song.

3. What drives the boy’s joy away?
Ans. The very thought of going to school drives the boy’s joy away.

4. How do the little ones spend the day in the school?
Ans. The little ones spend the day in the school by sighing (grief) and dismay (fear).

5. What does ‘cage’ stand for in the poem?
Ans. Cage stands for School, where the children are entrapped.

6. Pick the phrase from the following which does not refer to formal schooling.
Ans. Fruits are gathered.

7. Relate the seasons mentioned under column A with the stages of life.
Ans.
1. Spring -Childhood
2. Summer -Youth
3. Winter -Old age

Comprehension: II
1. What does the schoolboy love to do on a summer morn? What drives his joy away?
Ans. William Blake’s The School Boy’ is a typical extract of Blake’s Songs of Experience. Blake suggests that the educational system of his day destroys the joyful innocence of youth. Blake himself is largely self-educated and does not endure the drudgery of the classroom as a child. This poem is less harsh and more playful than most of Blake’s other works.

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In the poem, the poet speaks in the persona of a school child that wakes up in the morning. He loves to rise early in summer morning to enjoy the chirping sound of the birds, Huntsman’s horn and the melody of skylark singing. But all the happiness gets driven away when he realizes that he has to go to school. The main theme is the sorrow that the boy feels at the very thought of going to school but he wishes to enjoy the summer. In nature, the child feels the freedom that he is not under any surveillance. He should go to a closed space when he wishes to be very much outside in nature.

2. Describe the boy’s experience in the school.
Ans. ‘The school Boy’ is a lyric from the ‘Songs of Experience’. The child loves to rise early in summer morning to enjoy but all the happiness disappears when he realizes that he has to go to school. The main theme is the sorrow that the boy feels at the very thought of going to school. The boy longs for the freedom of the outdoors and cannot take delight in his book. He is compelled to experience many anxious hours. The image of the bird is used in the poem. The birds sing happily when they are free but if they are in a cage they cannot do it the same way. In the same way, the boy feels he is imprisoned at school. Schoolboy in school and the bird in the cage are seen as equivalents not only at the natural level under physical subjection but at the spiritual level too. Both represent the caging and entrapping of imaginative vision. The image of the plant applies to the schoolboys present and future. The young plant like the young child is tender and vulnerable the way it is treated at this stage, dictates its later capacity to bear fruit. Just as food gathered in autumn is necessary to ensure survival through the winter, so also the experiences of joy and the freedom of the imagination are necessary for a person’s capacity to live well and survive the inevitable grief’s of life.

Comprehension: III

3. According to the poet how does formal education curb a learner’s potential?
Or
1. Formal schooling not only takes away the joy of childhood but also hinders the child’s growth forever. Explain.
Or
a. Do you think the poet is arguing against education? Discuss.
Ans. William Blake’s The School Boy’ is a typical example of Blake’s Songs of Experience. Blake suggests that the educational system of his day destroys the joyful innocence of youth. Blake himself was largely self-educated and did not endure the drudgery of the classroom as a child. This poem is less harsh and more playful than most of Blake’s other works.

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The poem starts in a very positive way but it changes radically and the tone is very pessimistic. The poet wishes his readers to see the difference between the freedom of imagination offered by the close contact with nature and the repression or subjugation of the soul caused by so-called education. This poem depends upon 3 interrelated images, the schoolboy, the bird and the plant; All three are dependent upon the way in which they are treated by human beings. In the poem, the poet speaks in the persona of a school child that wakes up in the morning. The poet says the boy gets happiness in singing of bird and watching the huntsman. Nature is a sweet company to him. But when the boy realizes that he has to go to school makes him anxious, as he enters the school he spends the time in irritation and anxiety. The main theme is the sorrow that the boy feels at the very thought of going to school. While he wishes to enjoy the summer. He should go to a closed space when he wishes to be very much outside in nature.

The boy longs for the freedom of the outdoors and cannot take delight in his book. He is compelled to experience many anxious hours. The image of the bird is used in the poem. The birds sing happily when they are free but if they are in a cage they cannot do it the same way. In the same way, the boy feels he is imprisoned at school. Schoolboy in school and the bird in the cage are seen as equivalents not only at the natural level under physical subjection but at the spiritual level too. Both represent the caging and entrapping of imaginative vision.

The image of the plant applies to the schoolboys present and future. The young plant like the young child is tender and vulnerable the way it is treated at this stage, dictates its later capacity to bear fruit. Just as food gathered in autumn is necessary to ensure survival through the winter, so also the experiences of joy and the freedom of the imagination are necessary for a person’s capacity to live well and survive the inevitable grief’s of life.

The poet appeals that adults must realize that children are like plants, which needs to be nurtured and given proper care. They have to bear fruit later on. School should be the place where children are allowed to think freely and all-round development is guaranteed.

On the other hand, memorizing things to learn history, civics literature as these subjects not only serve as the tools, people need to face life in a more global or better way, but they also sharpen the mind and expand points of view.

To sum up, the poet is not arguing against education. But he wishes that school should provide students with challenges, competition and opportunities to enhance their creativity. It should be a place where children are provided with for practical play and develop at their own place.

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