The Power of a “Flower”

In reading Barbauld’s poem “To a Lady, with some painted flowers”, I struggle to separate my modern, personal views of women from my interpretation of the text. While it is our personal views that color our interpretation of all things, in this case my “coloring” of the poem is nearly black. I think of the great strides made by women (though I also admit there are many more to be made) in removing themselves from the stereotype presented by Barbauld. We are not simply our”fair” looks, or our “sweet” and “delicate” dispositions –  we are these things and so much more! Given my propensity towards woman being seen as much heartier than a mere bunch of flowers, I choose to think that Wollstonecraft was indeed missing Barbauld’s intended message, and interpreting a satire as serious.

Though romanticism embraces description and overt expression as a genre, I do not think that that determined the tone of Barbauld’s writing. As a dissenter, and as a successful female writer, Barbauld would have been well acquainted with being a minority member of a society. Just because she was a minority, however, does not mean she didn’t conform to some aspects of accepted majority culture – the stylistic aspects of writing at the time, for instance. By outwardly conforming her poem to social norms, Barbauld’s truly sardonic message escape all but the most cunning reader, affording her safety in the expression of her conflicting opinion.

The final line of the poem is “Your BEST, your SWEETEST empire is – TO PLEASE” illustrates this. It would appear she is encouraging women to continue focusing their efforts on the strength (pleasing others – namely men) afforded to them by their sex. It is, after all, what they are best at, and why would a woman want to discontinue a practice at which she excels? However, her use of the term “empire”, a term associated with a ruler, or king, and great power over others, ideas that were not popular at the time, highlights her true attitude toward the position of women. This line would suggest that a woman’s only power is in her ability to please men, but men are not leaders of the empire – it is a woman’s empire. The woman is the one in control, holding the power over man, though she does not realize it. Dividing up the text, the italicized portion of the last line reads “Your, your empire is-“. The repetition of “your” emphasizes that it is the audience (women) she is speaking to, and the dash at the end of the line shows the statement as incomplete, a fill in the blank for the reader. Whether the italics were a decision made by Barbauld, or one of various publishers since, Barbaulds subtle message to women can be seen here: It is your empire, women – take control of it, and finish the last line.


~ by mjaka10 on September 26, 2012.

One Response to “The Power of a “Flower””

  1. Your final paragraph was very well done and very well thought out – your highest note was definitely your ending. However the first paragraph felt superfluous, and did not set up your thesis very well if at all. Try sticking to the great analysis that you produced in the final paragraph and see where that takes you.

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