William Blake, Robert Burns,
Mary Wollstonecraft


William Blake's Biography

(1757-1827), was a brilliant and unconventional English poet, engraver, and painter. His symbolic pictures and visionary poems are not always easy to understand because Blake developed an elaborate personal mythology that underlies virtually all the symbolism and ideas in his works. Blake's writings and pictures reveal how a powerful artistic imagination can mold the world in its own image. Blake was born in London and lived most of his life there. He was a book illustrator and engraver by profession. He claimed to have seen visions, beginning in his childhood, and he called many of his poems either visions or prophecies.
Blake thought that we have war, injustice, and unhappiness because our way of life is founded on mistaken beliefs. We cannot truly know reality through our five senses, yet we concern ourselves almost entirely with scientific truth and materialistic values gained through those very senses. We cannot understand the vast reality beyond the material and achieve full control of ourselves until we learn to trust our instincts, energies, and imaginations. For Blake, this belief was the basis for all personal, social, and religious truth.
Blake has received much praise for such pictures as his illustrations for the Book of Job, but he was most interested in his "illuminated printing." This was a process of engraving poems and related pictures on metal plates and then hand-coloring the prints made from them. Except for Poetical Sketches (1783), most of Blake's published poetry appeared in this unique form. Blake is best known for Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794). In these works, he shows, in such contrasting poems as "The Lamb" and "The Tiger," symbols of what he calls "the two contrary states of the human soul." His other works include The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (about 1793), America (1793), and Jerusalem (about 1820).

Blake's "Holy Thursday" (Two Poems)

Note: There are no discussion questions for these poems and they will not appear on the sectional quiz.

"Holy Thursday" (Songs of Innocence)

'Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
Came children walking two and two, in red, and blue, and green:
Grey-headed beadles walked before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul's they like Thames waters flow.

Oh what a multitude they seemed, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit, with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among:
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor.
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

"Holy Thursday" (Songs of Experience)

Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land, --
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak and bare,
And their ways are filled with thorns:
It is eternal winter there.

For where'er the sun does shine,
And where'er the rain does fall,
Babes should never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.

Note: There are no discussion questions for these poems and they will not appear on the sectional quiz.

Blake's "The Poison Tree"

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

"A Poison Tree" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. Summarize what happens to the speaker's anger with a friend and with a foe. Why, in your opinion, does the speaker deal with anger this way?
2. What are "soft deceitful wiles" (line 8)? Why does the speaker use them?
3. What happens to the foe at the end of the poem? Why?
4. What lesson, or moral, do you think Blake might be trying to teach? Explain.

Evaluate and Connect
5. Do you approve of the way the speaker deals with anger? Why or why not? How would you behave in a similar situation?

Blake's "The Lamb"

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed,
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I'll tell thee.
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

"The Lamb" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. State in your own words what the speaker asks in lines 1-10. What does the first stanza reveal about the speaker's attitude toward the Little Lamb?
2. Explain the answer the speaker gives in the second stanza. Who is the speaker? How are the Little Lamb, "He," and the speaker connected?
3. After reading this poem, what can you infer about Blake's religious beliefs?

Evaluate and Connect
4. What does the Little Lamb symbolize, or stand for, in this poem? Explain.
5. How does the repetition add to your understanding and appreciation of the poem?

Blake's "The Tyger"

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forest of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

"The Tiger" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. Explain the basic question the speaker asks in this poem. What can you infer about the speaker's attitude toward the Tyger?
2. To whom does the speaker compare the Tyger's creator? What images (see page R8) does the speaker use, to describe the creation process?
3. What is your interpretation of line 20? Why might the speaker ask this question?

Evaluate and Connect
4. Evaluate the effects created by the poet's use of rhyme and meter (see pages R13 and R9). How do these devices help communicate meaning?
5. If you were to write a poem about an awesome, fearful creature, which one would you choose? Why?

Robert Burns's Biography

(1759-1796), is the national poet of Scotland. He wrote brilliant narrative poems, such as "Tam o' Shanter," and clever satires, including "The Holy Fair," "Address to the Deil," and "Holy Willie's Prayer." However, Burns is probably best known for his songs, especially "Auld Lang Syne," "Comin Thro' the Rye," and "For a'that and a'that." Many of Burns's lines have become familiar quotations. These lines include "Oh wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us/To see oursels as others see us!" from "To a Louse"; and "The best laid schemes o' mice and men/Gang aft agley" from "To a Mouse." See Auld Lang Syne.
Burns's life. Burns was born in Alloway, a village on the River Doon. Like his father, Burns was a farmer, and he remained one almost all his life, despite his success as a writer. The farmer's hard way of life taught Burns to take joy in fleeting pleasure and to be skeptical of the moral codes of the well-to-do. These attitudes, along with his capacity for love, friendship, and hearty tavern fellowship, provide the chief themes of his poetry. Burns had only a few years of formal education, but he read many books by English and Scottish authors. In his traditional "verse epistles," or "letters" from one poet to another, Burns summarized the simple rustic focus of his work: "Give me a spark o' Nature's fire!/That's a' the learning I desire."
Burns was interested in authentic folk songs. He collected about 300 original and traditional Scottish songs for books compiled in his day, including The Scots Musical Museum (1787). Burns wrote many poems to be sung to Scottish folk tunes. He adapted some of his best-loved songs, including "Comin Thro' the Rye," from bawdy lyrics. Others, such as "A Red, Red Rose," he pieced together almost entirely from songs by other writers. But even those works that Burns adapted from other sources have qualities uniquely his own. Burns wrote in both the Scots dialect and standard English. He wrote in English when he wanted to express customary or respectable ideas. When Burns wished to express ideas that conflicted with custom or that dealt with less respectable aspects of human nature, he adopted the language of the uneducated Scottish peasant. Examples include "The Jolly Beggars" and "Address to the Unco Guid."
In his time, Burns was considered an unlearned plowman, but he was really a skilled poet. He could use not only a traditional Scottish stanza form, as in "To a Mouse," but also the sophisticated English Spenserian stanza, as in "The Cotter's Saturday Night." The dialect Burns used was a partly artificial language adapted from earlier Scottish writers, including Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson. Sometimes, Burns did not use true dialect, but respelled English words and phrases in Scots. He used much more art than people thought, but what we feel is not so much the art as the vigorous life of his poetry.

Burns's "John Anderson, My Jo"

John Anderson, my jo, John,
When we were first acquent;
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snow,
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo.

John Anderson, my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither;
And mony a cantie day, John,
We've had wi' ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo.

"John Anderson, My Jo" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. What is the relationship between the speaker and John Anderson? How has John changed? How have those changes affected the speaker's feelings toward him?
2. Summarize what the speaker says in the second stanza. What does "the hill" symbolize, or represent? What does "sleep" represent?
3. What can you infer about the speaker's character and outlook on life? Refer to specific lines or phrases in the poem to support your answer.

Evaluate and Connect
4. What theme, or message, do you think Burns wants to convey? Do you agree with his message? Why or why not?

Burns's "To a Mouse"

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

I'm truly sorry man's dominion,
Has broken nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
What makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell -
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me;
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects dreaer!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

"To a Mouse" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. What has the speaker done to the mouse? What reasons does the speaker give for regretting what has happened?
2. What does the second stanza seem to suggest about the speaker's view of the relationship between nature and human beings? Explain.
3. What lesson does the mouse's experience teach, according to the speaker? What is ironic (see page R8) about the ideas in the last stanza of the poem?

Evaluate and Connect
4. Review your response to the Reading Focus on page 671. Compare your experience with what happens to the mouse. Do you think it is worthwhile to plan and prepare for the future? Why or why not?

Mary Wollstonecraft's Biography

Nearly two centuries after her death in 1797 from complications following the birth of her famous daughter, Mary Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft occupies an important place in feminist literary studies. During her life, the popular press attacked her "radical" views; after her death, Wollstonecraft served as an example to women of the 19th century, either as an "unsex'd female" or, to an important few, as a model author in the male-dominated world of letters. The 20th century has witnessed Wollstonecraft's emergence as a seminal figure in feminist writing.
Early in 1792 Wollstonecraft made the connection which few others would make between the rights of men and the situation of women. By far her best known book--and the one on which her reputation as an early feminist rests--Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman stimulated a new debate on sexual injustice and earned her the moral condemnation of conservative men and women alike. Her appeal opens with a dedication to Tallyrand, one of the principle figures behind reform of education in revolutionary France; it then assaults Rousseau's sexist notions of female education in his otherwise enlightened Émile. In this protest against social inequality, Wollstonecraft combines her early dissatisfaction with the education of girls with a heightened political awareness to produce one of the first revolutionary feminist statements.

Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Women"


After considering the historic page, and viewing the living world with anxious solicitude, the most melancholy emotions of sorrowful indignation have depressed my spirits, and I have sighed when obliged to confess, that either nature has made a great difference between man and man, or that the civilization, which has hitherto taken place in the world, has been very partial. I have turned over various books written on the subject of education, and patiently observed the conduct of parents and the management of schools; but what has been the result? a profound conviction, that the neglected education of my fellow creatures is the grand source of the misery I deplore; and that women in particular, are rendered weak and wretched by a variety of concurring causes, originating from one hasty conclusion. The conduct and manners of women, in fact, evidently prove, that their minds are not in a healthy state; for, like the flowers that are planted in too rich a soil, strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty; and the flaunting leaves, after having pleased a fastidious eye, fade, disregarded on the stalk, long before the season when they ought to have arrived at maturity. One cause of this barren blooming I attribute to a false system of education, gathered from the books written on this subject by men, who, considering females rather as women than human creatures, have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than rational wives; and the understanding of the sex has been so bubbled by this specious homage, that the civilized women of the present century, with a few exceptions, are only anxious to inspire love, when they ought to cherish a nobler ambition, and by their abilities and virtues exact respect.....
Yet, because I am a woman, I would not lead my readers to suppose, that I mean violently to agitate the contested question respecting the equality and inferiority of the sex; but as the subject lies in my way, and I cannot pass it over without subjecting the main tendency of my reasoning to misconstruction, I shall stop a moment to deliver, in a few words, my opinion. In the government of the physical world, it is observable that the female, in general, is inferior to the male. The male pursues, the female yields--this is the law of nature; and it does not appear to be suspended or abrogated in favour of woman. This physical superiority cannot be denied--and it is a noble prerogative! But not content with this natural pre-eminence, men endeavour to sink us still lower, merely to render us alluring objects for a moment; and women, intoxicated by the adoration which men, under the influence of their senses, pay them, do not seek to obtain a durable interest in their hearts, or to become the friends of the fellow creatures who find amusement in their society.
I am aware of an obvious inference: from every quarter have I heard exclamations against masculine women; but where are they to be found? If, by this appellation, men mean to inveigh against their ardour in hunting, shooting, and gaming, I shall most cordially join in the cry; but if it be, against the imitation of manly virtues, or, more properly speaking, the attainment of those talents and virtues, the exercise of which ennobles the human character, and which raise females in the scale of animal being, when they are comprehensively termed mankind--all those who view them with a philosophical eye must, I should think, wish with me, that they may every day grow more and more masculine....
My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their FASCINATING graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone. I earnestly wish to point out in what true dignity and human happiness consists--I wish to persuade women to endeavour to acquire strength, both of mind and body, and to convince them, that the soft phrases, susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste, are almost synonymous with epithets of weakness, and that those beings who are only the objects of pity and that kind of love, which has been termed its sister, will soon become objects of contempt....
The education of women has, of late, been more attended to than formerly; yet they are still reckoned a frivolous sex, and ridiculed or pitied by the writers who endeavour by satire or instruction to improve them. It is acknowledged that they spend many of the first years of their lives in acquiring a smattering of accomplishments: meanwhile, strength of body and mind are sacrificed to libertine notions of beauty, to the desire of establishing themselves, the only way women can rise in the world--by marriage. And this desire making mere animals of them, when they marry, they act as such children may be expected to act: they dress; they paint, and nickname God's creatures. Surely these weak beings are only fit for the seraglio! Can they govern a family, or take care of the poor babes whom they bring into the world?
If then it can be fairly deduced from the present conduct of the sex, from the prevalent fondness for pleasure, which takes place of ambition and those nobler passions that open and enlarge the soul; that the instruction which women have received has only tended, with the constitution of civil society, to render them insignificant objects of desire; mere propagators of fools! if it can be proved, that in aiming to accomplish them, without cultivating their understandings, they are taken out of their sphere of duties, and made ridiculous and useless when the short lived bloom of beauty is over, I presume that RATIONAL men will excuse me for endeavouring to persuade them to become more masculine and respectable.
Indeed the word masculine is only a bugbear: there is little reason to fear that women will acquire too much courage or fortitude; for their apparent inferiority with respect to bodily strength, must render them, in some degree, dependent on men in the various relations of life; but why should it be increased by prejudices that give a sex to virtue, and confound simple truths with sensual reveries?.....

from Chapter Two

Youth is the season for love in both sexes; but in those days of thoughtless enjoyment, provision should be made for the more important years of life, when reflection takes place of sensation. But Rousseau, and most of the male writers who have followed his steps, have warmly inculcated that the whole tendency of female education ought to be directed to one point to render them pleasing.
Let me reason with the supporters of this opinion, who have any knowledge of human nature, do they imagine that marriage can eradicate the habitude of life? The woman who has only been taught to please, will soon find that her charms are oblique sun-beams, and that they cannot have much effect on her husband's heart when they are seen every day, when the summer is past and gone. Will she then have sufficient native energy to look into herself for comfort, and cultivate her dormant faculties? or, is it not more rational to expect, that she will try to please other men; and, in the emotions raised by the expectation of new conquests, endeavour to forget the mortification her love or pride has received? When the husband ceases to be a lover--and the time will inevitably come, her desire of pleasing will then grow languid, or become a spring of bitterness; and love, perhaps, the most evanescent of all passions, gives place to jealousy or vanity.
I now speak of women who are restrained by principle or prejudice; such women though they would shrink from an intrigue with real abhorrence, yet, nevertheless, wish to be convinced by the homage of gallantry, that they are cruelly neglected by their husbands; or, days and weeks are spent in dreaming of the happiness enjoyed by congenial souls, till the health is undermined and the spirits broken by discontent. How then can the great art of pleasing be such a necessary study? it is only useful to a mistress; the chaste wife, and serious mother, should only consider her power to please as the polish of her virtues, and the affection of her husband as one of the comforts that render her task less difficult, and her life happier. But, whether she be loved or neglected, her first wish should be to make herself respectable, and not rely for all her happiness on a being subject to like infirmities with herself.
The amiable Dr. Gregory fell into a similar error. I respect his heart; but entirely disapprove of his celebrated Legacy to his Daughters.....
.....He actually recommends dissimulation, and advises an innocent girl to give the lie to her feelings, and not dance with spirit, when gaiety of heart would make her feet eloquent, without making her gestures immodest. In the name of truth and common sense, why should not one woman acknowledge that she can take more exercise than another? or, in other words, that she has a sound constitution; and why to damp innocent vivacity, is she darkly to be told, that men will draw conclusions which she little thinks of? Let the libertine draw what inference he pleases; but, I hope, that no sensible mother will restrain the natural frankness of youth, by instilling such indecent cautions. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; and a wiser than Solomon hath said, that the heart should be made clean, and not trivial ceremonies observed, which it is not very difficult to fulfill with scrupulous exactness when vice reigns in the heart.
Women ought to endeavour to purify their hearts; but can they do so when their uncultivated understandings make them entirely dependent on their senses for employment and amusement, when no noble pursuit sets them above the little vanities of the day, or enables them to curb the wild emotions that agitate a reed over which every passing breeze has power? To gain the affections of a virtuous man, is affectation necessary? Nature has given woman a weaker frame than man; but, to ensure her husband's affections, must a wife, who, by the exercise of her mind and body, whilst she was discharging the duties of a daughter, wife, and mother, has allowed her constitution to retain its natural strength, and her nerves a healthy tone, is she, I say, to condescend, to use art, and feign a sickly delicacy, in order to secure her husband's affection? Weakness may excite tenderness, and gratify the arrogant pride of man; but the lordly caresses of a protector will not gratify a noble mind that pants for and deserves to be respected. Fondness is a poor substitute for friendship.....
If all the faculties of woman's mind are only to be cultivated as they respect her dependence on man; if, when she obtains a husband she has arrived at her goal, and meanly proud, is satisfied with such a paltry crown, let her grovel contentedly, scarcely raised by her employments above the animal kingdom; but, if she is struggling for the prize of her high calling, let her cultivate her understanding without stopping to consider what character the husband may have whom she is destined to marry. Let her only determine, without being too anxious about present happiness, to acquire the qualities that ennoble a rational being, and a rough, inelegant husband may shock her taste without destroying her peace of mind. She will not model her soul to suit the frailties of her companion, but to bear with them: his character may be a trial, but not an impediment to virtue.....
These may be termed Utopian dreams. Thanks to that Being who impressed them on my soul, and gave me sufficient strength of mind to dare to exert my own reason, till becoming dependent only on him for the support of my virtue, I view with indignation, the mistaken notions that enslave my sex.
I love man as my fellow; but his sceptre real or usurped, extends not to me, unless the reason of an individual demands my homage; and even then the submission is to reason, and not to man. In fact, the conduct of an accountable being must be regulated by the operations of its own reason; or on what foundation rests the throne of God?
It appears to me necessary to dwell on these obvious truths, because females have been insulted, as it were; and while they have been stripped of the virtues that should clothe humanity, they have been decked with artificial graces, that enable them to exercise a short lived tyranny. Love, in their bosoms, taking place of every nobler passion, their sole ambition is to be fair, to raise emotion instead of inspiring respect; and this ignoble desire, like the servility in absolute monarchies, destroys all strength of character. Liberty is the mother of virtue, and if women are, by their very constitution, slaves, and not allowed to breathe the sharp invigorating air of freedom, they must ever languish like exotics, and be reckoned beautiful flaws in nature; let it also be remembered, that they are the only flaw.

"A Vindication of the Rights of Women"
Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. In the Introduction, what does Wollstonecraft say has resulted from women's neglected education? What does she urge women to do? Why?
2. What comparisons does the author make between women and children? What do these comparisons reveal about women's status?
3. What marital problems result when women are taught only to please? Why does Wollstonecraft think it is important for women to fully cultivate all of their faculties?
4. Summarize the ideas Wollstonecraft presents in the last paragraph. What do you think she means by "Liberty is the mother of virtue',?

Evaluate and Connect 5. Who do you think the author is addressing? Do you think she is writing for more than one audience? Explain.
6. Do you think Wollstonecraft's tone, or attitude toward her subject, is likely to persuade readers to adopt her point of view? Why or why not?
7. In describing the relationship between marriage partners, Wollstonecraft says, "Fondness is a poor substitute for friendship!" Do you agree? Explain your answer.
8. How do Wollstonecraft's conclusions about education compare with the ones you discussed for the Reading Focus on page 678? Explain.