The poem The Schoolboy by William Blake is written from the perspective of a young boy who hates going to school in a “disciplined way” and rather desires to be like the birds. For him, the school is just like a prison which does not allow the creativity of a person to flourish.
The poem has been divided into six stanzas. The rhyme scheme is ABABB. It is included in Blake’s collection, “The Songs of Innocence”. Thus in this poem, the poet describes the innocent nature and desires of a young boy.
The Schoolboy Poem Summary
The schoolboy says that he loves to rise in a summer morning. It is the time when the birds sing on every tree; the huntsman blows his horn far away (i.e. he makes way towards hunting) and the skylark sings with him. According to the schoolboy, it is his best company and he enjoys it very much.
The first stanza of the poem is all about the things which make the schoolboy happy. He, like the birds, love to rise in the morning and enjoy the activities which happen at that time. The morning time is the time of hope and aspirations. Hence humans, as well as, animals wake up in the pursuit of a goal.
In the second stanza and onwards, the tone totally changes from delight, rejoicing and hope to dismay joylessness. The schoolboy says that going to the school in the summer morning is something which takes away all his joy.
In the school, the students have to spend all their day under a teacher who in outdated fashion keeps an eye on the schoolboys so that they may follow the rules and regulations strictly. Thus the young ones, according to him, have to spend their day in distress and sadness.
The second stanza describes the schoolboy’s concern over the way school work. The children are kept under strict surveillance and are forced to obey the rules which may their lives joyless.
The schoolboy here describes how he spends his day at the school. According to him he often sits and spends a lot of time in boredom. He does not find any joy or happiness in books.
The next line is quite confusing which I will try to explain in an easy way. The schoolboy says that he does not feel any joy while sitting in learner’s bower, which according to him is worn through with the dreary shower. Bower means a shady place under the tree.
However the phrase “learner’s bower” means a place where someone comes to learn. It can be school, university or any other institution where people gather to acquire knowledge.
Thus “learner’s bower”, as per the schoolboy, is damaged or has a defect because it was hit by “dreary shower”. Dreary shower in simple context means heavy rain which is disastrous. However when we try to relate “dreary shower” to the “learner’s bower”, it means that the school’s education system has been damaged or is defective.
Why it is defective? It can be traced in the previous stanza i.e. the cruel eye. A young student cannot learn under restrictions. He needs love, freedom, joy. But the cruel eye of the teachers or parents has destroyed the basic purpose of education.
The students are forced to learn those things which make them capable of acquiring materialistic things and for that, they have to give up all the things which would have otherwise made them a better human.
The schoolboy raises a number of rhetorical questions. First, he asks, “How can the bird that is born for joy sit in a cage and sing?” Here he compares himself to a caged bird and like the caged bird (which is born to remain free), he too loses joy in the school (which is a cage for him).
Next, he asks, “How can a child, when fears annoy, But droop his tender wing, And forget his youthful spring!”. Here he says that a child who is scared by the teachers and parents cannot forget the joy of freedom when the latter keep their wings locked. Thus he remains joyless and longs for the freedom.
In this stanza, he is in conversation with his parents. He says that if like a flower’s buds, the child’s freedom is snatched away and its flowers (i.e. joy) blown away and if newly grown twigs (here means newly acquired joy by the child) are removed at the time of spring (i.e. when the child has started growing up) he, like the flower plant, will be left in sorrow and dismay.
This stanza continuous from the previous stanza. According to the poet how summer can be joyful when the buds of flowers are cut, the flower threw away and the twigs removed away.
The fruit of summer would never appear. Thus how the plants (here children) would be able to get the fruit which has been destroyed. How can the summer be a blessing when the blasts of winter appear.
The final stanza is metaphorical. The schoolboy compares the children to the spring plants which have been destroyed. According to him, like the flowers, the children too need freedom for efficient growth.
If their freedom is snatched away and their joy-buds are cut off because of schools, they will never be able to get properly educated and hence serve the society. The poem is thus a criticism on the way the schools impart education.