Anetta Newcamp, Examining Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s poem, “A Summer Evening’s Meditation”

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        I initially decided to research this particular poem because I enjoyed reading about the multitude of space entities that are included in this poem during my initial examination of Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s poem, “A Summer Evening’s Meditation.” However, the poem proved to be much deeper than simply a poetical declaration describing the wonders of space—Barbauld also contemplates the infinite bounds of all of creation and the nature of creation itself in the poem. Although her intricate theme is also relatively spiritually complex and explores the “divine meaning of the stars,” essentially she incorporates into her discussion of space her ardent hope that she will be able to explore the confines of space when her soul is not confined by the sensory limitations of her body (Jones 12, Barbauld 123-125). Therefore, she discusses her view of the afterlife in her poem that is fairly unique given she does not believe her soul will be rooted on Earth or in heaven but that she will be able to travel the universe and discover many of the universe’s mysteries that include the formidable “the deserts of creation, wide and wild” (Barbauld 37). So, she fascinatingly seems to envision the possibility of space travel as being one of the benefits of dying. Her ongoing dialogue about space travel also sounds particularly like a prayer to a higher power that her soul will be free to travel after it leaves the body as noted by the scholar David Chandler in his article titled, “Barbauld’s Poems: An Addition and a Note” (Chandler 30). However, her poem also seems to be written to honor higher powers and there are many lines in her poem that praise divine beings: “Ye citadels of light and seats of gods! / Perhaps my future home from whence the soul. . . . Oh be it lawful now / To tread the hallowed circle of your courts, / And with mute wonder and delighted awe / Approach your burning confines” (Barbauld 62-71). Nonetheless, despite the joyous tone of Barbauld’s writing, she also recognizes the incomprehensible enormity of space itself in addition to the frightening existence of natural and divinely immortal powers within space whose existence dwarfs the seemingly minute human condition—as cited by Robert Jones: “It is a powerful and terrible vision, a prospect without limit” (Jones 12). Although her imagery depicting the colossal bodies and infinite confines of space are somewhat harrowing, her daring sentiments toward the possibility of space exploration balance her recognitions of the dangers that lie in space, so the poem is also known to contain a balance between the “devotion” that Barbauld displays for being ready to embark through space and her awareness that space is also full of portentous natural phenomena (Major 918). So, Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s profound poem about the breathtaking magnitude of the forms that exist in space that she hopes to view as a free spirit and her religious perspective of the higher powers that reside throughout space make this poem contain a unique blend of science and spiritualism in addition to vivacity and fear.

            There were many aspects of the poem that made me view it as a unique poetical work among the many poems I have read. Although I have read an extensive amount of poetry by writers that include personification, I thought Barbauld’s inclusion of an ongoing array of her imaginative planetary personification was both intriguing and demonstrated her proficiency as a poetical artist. The most memorable use of personification in my opinion was her seemingly courtly description of the planets within Earth’s solar system that all seem to have an individual personality:

                From the green borders of the peopled earth

                And the pale moon, her duteous fair attendant;

                From solitary Mars; from the vast orb

                Of Jupiter, whose huge givantic bulk

                Dances in ether like the lightest leaf;

                To the dim verge, the suburbs of the solar system

                Where cheerless Saturn midst her wat’ry moons,

                Girt with a lucid zone, majestic sits (Barbauld 73-79).

Despite her intricate use of personification, I also thought her attitude towards death itself was admirable. In fact, it actually reminded me of a story I read as a high school student by Robin McKinley titled, “A Pool in the Desert,” from the collaborative work by both Peter Dickinson and Robin McKinley titled, Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits, that involved a young adult who had to swim to the bottom of a pond to reach another world metaphysically—but she assumedly had to drown to get there and did not take oxygen into the pond. (McKinley 294). So, I actually have encountered narratives about adventurously traveling to new dimensions by way of dying before, and given my previous enjoyment of a similar story, I did not think the theme of death in this serious poem made her joyous account of the afterlife seem disturbing even though it was much more somber than the fictional narrative I read as a high school student. In addition, I think her concluding lines that bring to light her appreciation for her station on Earth also make the poem appealing as she explicitly also declares her thankfulness for being able to live the life of a human being while she awaits to discover the outer realms of creation: “Content and grateful, wait th’ appointed time / And ripen for the skies: the hour will come / When all these splendours bursting on my sight / Shall stand unveiled” (Barbauld 121-124). So, given Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s wondrous use of personification in addition to her interesting viewpoint of the soul’s riveting preoccupations after death in her poem, I believe this poem is a fascinating poetical achievement.

Works Cited

Barbauld, Anna Laetitia. “A Summer Evening’s Meditation.” Romanticism: An Anthology. 3.        Ed. Duncan Wu. Malden: Blackwell, 2006. Pgs. 35-38. Print. 25 April 2013.

Chandler, David. “Barbauld’s Poems: An Addition and a Note.” English Language Notes. 36. 2. EBSCO Host. December 1998. Pgs. 28-32. Web. 25 Apr 2013. <http://0-search.ebscohost.com.sophia .ag nesscott.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=1477877&site=ehost-live>.

Jones, Robert. “Barbauld, Milton, and the Idea of Resistance.” Romanticism. 9. 2. EBSCO Host. 2003. Pgs. 119-140. Web. 25 Apr 2013. <http://0search.ebscohost.com.sophia.agne sscott.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=12676959&site=ehost-live>.

Major, Emma. “Nature, Nation, and Denomination: Barbauld’s Taste for the Public.” English Literary History. 74. 4. EBSCO Host. Winter 2007. Pgs. 909-930. Web. 25 Apr 2013. <http://0-search.ebs cohost.com.sophia.agnesscott.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=28538910&site-ehost-live>.

McKinley, Robin. “A Pool in the Desert.” Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits. New York: Firebird, 2002. Pgs. 208-300. Print. 26 Apr 2013. 

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