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Songs of Innocence and of Experience

by William Blake
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In "The School Boy," what does the phrase "the tender plants are stripped / Of their joy" mean?

The phrase "the tender plants are stripped / Of their joy" refers to the idea that the children's youthful spirits might get crushed if the children don't get the chance to experience the joys of childhood.

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William Blake's 1789 pastoral poem "The School Boy" is a poem about the negative sides and aspects of formal education. The speaker, the titular school boy, is a kid that dislikes school, or rather dislikes the teaching methods of the teachers and believes that nature might actually be the best teacher in the world. The young boy describes how formal education isn't beneficial to him at all and even affects his mental and emotional state.

In the fifth stanza of the poem, Blake writes,

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 ...

Here, the speaker begs his parents to listen to him and hopefully help him, as he feels miserable at school. Blake compares the boy's joy and happiness to the gentle "buds," "blossoms," and "tender plants" of spring and summer in order to showcase how sensitive children actually are and how it's imperative that they learn in an environment that doesn't go against nature's laws.

If those" buds" are "nipped," the "blossoms" are "blown away," and "the tender plants are stripped of their joy," then the boy will never find happiness and will instead live a life of sorrow; the sensitive plants are a metaphor of the boy's spirit and the youth and cheerfulness of all children in general.

Blake actually implies that kids should also be taught by nature and schools shouldn't be so rigid, tense, and uninteresting. Children should be able to experience happiness and joy, especially in school, so that they can be better prepared to face the world and all of life's challenges when they become adults.

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