The Fleeting Glory of Barbauld’s Flowers

It appears that poor Mary Wollstonecraft is neglecting the true meaning of the metaphor that Anna L. Barbauld’s presents as a reoccurring trope throughout her poetry.  Contrary to Wollstonecraft’s interpretation, it appears that Barbauld has ironically molded the archetypal notion of the flower of femininity into an entirely different thematic symbol.  Instead, in the hands of Barbauld, the flower comes to consistently embody fleeting glory.   In “To a Lady, with some painted flowers” (which Wollstonecraft disparages in the footnote of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman), Barbauld’s language imitates, what Wollstonecraft dubs, “the language of men” as her verses are teeming with the base flattery and sexual commendation that plagued the minds of the young women of her era.  Barbauld even goes so far as to emphasize those pieces of her poetry that should sting the ears of her female peers most intensely, such as “SWEET” “DELICATE”, “GLAD”, “TO PLEASE”, and most brooding and rather apocalyptic, “ALONE.”  Barbauld is explicitly speaking about the “advantageous” nature of woman as the rest of the world works to protect her; yet implicitly, the emphasis on the key words communicates and criticizes the base, artificial, and ultimately fleeting facets of the female sphere.

Barbauld’s unique metaphor is more clearly and extensively expressed in her poem “Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, A Poem”, in which she criticizes Britain’s performance in the Napoleonic Wars.  Barbauld pictures Britain as a wilting flower in the midst of this war as she professes, “Yes, thou must droop; they Midas dream is o’er;/The golden tide of commerce leaves thy shore,/Leaves thee to prove the alternate ills that haunt/Enfeebling Luxury and ghastly Want” (61-64).  Here, one can note the parallels between the feminine flower we first encountered in “To a Lady” and the symbolic flower of Great Britain: although once gilded with sweetness, the limitations of delicate femininity are much like the limitations of the once-golden warring empire.  Barbauld compares the flowers of femininity and the golden flower of empire in the sense that both have their respective expiration dates: the beauty of the feminine form fades with age (and, therefore, if feminine grace is not used in time, the woman finds herself alone), and the greed of the empire brings about its own tragic fall.


~ by Romantic Fanatic on September 27, 2012.

One Response to “The Fleeting Glory of Barbauld’s Flowers”

  1. Very to the point, with concrete evidence and analysis. Only downside is that it seems to be lacking a bit in creativity – we thought you relied too heavily on quoting from the texts and repeating what we said in class. Still, a solid post with good argumentation.

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