William Blake brought in usual naturalness (which was also one of the themes of that era) in this poem. A boy dons the hat of first-person and exhibits his boredom in the structured format of schooling. He prefers to explore in the wilderness, with the fragrance of the blooms, and with the chirping raga of feathered creatures or in the mountain wastelands.
He finds joy and comfort in the routine undertakings of the morning when he says in the first stanza “I love to rise in the summer morning, the distant huntsman winding the horn and the skylark sings with me”.
The second stanza drives the joy away from the boy’s mood when he thinks about how he, along with his mates, will be forced to be observed under the cruel eye (which can mean a teacher in this parlance). And he doesn’t want that to happen.
The boy stresses on the problems of formal learning and thinks that there is nothing that he cannot learn in the natural world. Schooling stifles innate imagination and joy of learning, is the thought behind his verses.
He goes on describing the climate of the structured learning. He sits ‘drooping’ hunched over his bench. There is no joy in drowning in the affairs of the books. He wants to be free in the open space which he is not able to do with the heavy downpour ‘dreary shower’ being the obstacle in his way.
The fourth stanza is a reality check for the reader. The boy compares himself with a bird. Certainly, a bird is born for joy but how can it find one if it is caged. Can it throw its sonorous voice or can it fly away freely, all siting cooped up in a cage? The cage is a metaphor here drawing a parallel to the school. The school, like a cage, spoils the creativity and limits the creative freedom to the children.
The boy even addresses his conflict to his parents. He uses new buds as metaphor. Can a bud be nipped in the infancy meddling with the joy that they are born to exude? Can a tender child be disallowed to enjoy and fancy a similar joy? Can his parents change the course of this situation? He clearly doesn’t understand if they are equipped to, but still he wants them to see some sense in his entreaties. The yearning for carefree joy and exploration still remains alive in the boy’s mind. And towards the end of poem, he clearly does not achieve any satisfaction or solution but he expresses his thought on his routine life.
A structured format of learning poses barrier to creativity. This has been achieved by many poets and not only Blake. The tendency to romanticize the nature element can be found in many poems in the period of Romanticism. You can find a poem by William Wordsworth ‘ The Tables Turned’ which is also of the Romantic age. That poem too like Blakes’ puts an emphasis on educating ourselves through the medium of nature.
“Enough of Science and of Art; Close up those barren leaves; come to the nature, and bring with you a heart that watches and receives – This stanza in that Woodsworth’s poem strikes a chord with this school boy in Blake’s poem.
Even this was somewhat true when we were in schools. The methods were not innovative but stressed more on textbook approach. Right now, the pedagogy sees some change. The core skills and key learning concepts are devised in a way that they enjoy it with experiments and more tactile based approach. Now there is more application over conservative approach that we all were used to in our times. Many of us have looked our school journey through this boy’s eyes. Change was very far off but it was not impossible. Yet the system did not welcome any new strategy. Right now, even with the technology and new improvised methods, the rat race has not stopped. Ultimately, children are met with the pressure and turmoil in one way or other, leading to withering of interest. Sometimes, the faculties are not given enough creative freedom to innovate and with the lack of motivation and time constraint, the learning methodology suffers.
Coming to this poem, the school boy teaches us to keep our eyes open and have a relationship with nature. There is always a way to include environmental exploration in the method of learning. The responsibility can be shared between educators and parents, both collectively. There is no end to learning and learning doesn’t stop when the school bell rings and children walk off from school. It continues and will continue for lifetime. Also let’s give some respite to this fictional school boy and keep the light of learning ignited when we travel to some place or when we are with the nature. Mindfulness is the key.