I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the skylark sings with me:
O what sweet company!
But to go to school in a summer morn, –
O it drives all joy away!
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day
In sighing and dismay.
Ah then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour;
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learning’s bower,
Worn through with the dreary shower.
How can the bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing?
How can a child, when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring!
O father and mother if buds are nipped,
And blossoms blown away;
And if the tender plants are stripped
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and care’s dismay, –
How shall the summer arise in joy,
Or the summer fruits appear?
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy,
Or bless the mellowing year,
When the blasts of winter appear?
As spring gets ready to move into summer, this poem came to life for me as I read it, and I connected with it on a deep level. My garden is alive and flourishing; there is a bird’s nest with baby birds woven into the vines of my front stoop; the kids in the neighborhood are outside playing. This all brings back the joy and excitement that was summer in my youth.
In this poem, Blake addresses the tendency of educational systems during his time to crush a child’s spirit of joy, wonder, and creativity, preparing that child for a life of conformity and the mundane. The image that comes to mind is from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” I would like to think that this is just a dark page from our past, but that is not the case. When I read about cuts to funding of the arts in schools, the banning of books from school libraries, the tendency to impose constant structure on children as opposed to allowing them to explore through play, I am sadly reminded that society is still attempting to impose conformity on the young.
The other night, I watched “Dead Man” with my daughter (if you are a fan of William Blake and have not seen this film, I recommend watching it). She said she liked the film but felt she didn’t get a lot of the references because she was not familiar with Blake’s poems. I’ll have to share this one with her. I suspect she will relate to it.
Thanks for reading, and here are a couple short videos that you might enjoy.
Pink Floyd: Another Brick in the Wall
Scene from the film “Dead Man”