What is a summary of the poem "The School Boy" by William Blake?

"The School Boy" is a poem about a young boy who is at school during the summer. He can't focus in class because he wants so badly to play outside and enjoy the weather; he feels like a songbird trapped in a cage. Toward the poem's end, the boy wonders how children can grow and thrive if they are not allowed to enjoy the summer.

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"The School Boy" is a poem in six stanzas and is narrated by its subject. He begins by saying that he loves to wake up on a summer morning to the sounds of the birds singing and the hunter winding his horn in the distance.

In the second stanza, however, the boy complains that all the joy of summer mornings is driven away by having to go to school. The children spend their time sighing sadly, oppressed by the cruelty of the schoolmaster who watches them.

On these days when he has to go to school, the boy sits disconsolately, not enjoying his reading or learning anything, merely feeling tired and anxious.

The boy asks how a bird can sing when it is imprisoned in a cage. Similarly, how can he experience the joys of youth and freedom in the fearful atmosphere of the school?

The last two stanzas together present a final argument and plea from the boy. If the buds are nipped off a plant and it is not allowed to grow naturally, then how will it bring forth fruit and add to the joy of summer? If a child is destroyed by misery in childhood, what sort of adult will he grow up to be, and what will he have to sustain him in the winter of his life?

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 15, 2020
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The speaker describes his love of summer mornings: waking up to hear the birds singing and the distant horn of the huntsman. However, to have to go to school on a summer morning turns what should be a joy into something miserable. Under the "cruel eye" of their worn-out teacher, children spend the day sad and bored. The speaker sits lifelessly at his desk, unable to take pleasure in his book or in what he is supposed to be learning. He compares himself to a bird, trapped in the cage that is school. He feels that school on a summer day saps all the youth and happiness from him. He appeals to his parents, saying that if his youth is shortened by such experiences, then he will never be able to enjoy the remainder of his life either. If he is prevented from fully experiencing the joy of childhood, then how sad it will be when he ages and can no longer hope to do so.

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As a Romantic poet, Blake loved nature and thought that experiencing it was vital to a child's growth and happiness. In this poem, his narrator critiques the act of forcing a child to sit in a schoolroom when his soul would be better nurtured where "the birds sing on every tree." He especially criticizes subjecting a child to rote school learning on a summer day.  

In the first half of the poem, we experience the world through a young boy's eyes. He wakes to the birds' songs in stanza one and walks to school listening to the skylark sing, finding it "sweet company."

In stanzas two and three, the boy laments being in school. He describes himself as "sighing," "drooping," and "anxious."

In the fourth, fifth, and sixth stanzas, the narrator addresses parents everywhere and asks how a child can thrive if he is forced to sit in classroom on a beautiful summer day. He admonishes parents and advises them to allow their children some freedom and joy during childhood. He believes this is important so that the young ones, "tender plants," will have happy memories to fall back on "to bless their mellowing years" when unhappy times—"the blasts of winter"—inevitably come.

He attempts to raise our sympathy and compassion for the plight of young children. This is typical of Romanticism, which celebrated the innocence of childhood and tried to reach people through their emotions. 

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“The School Boy” is a poem included in William Blake’s collection Songs of Innocence. It is told from the perspective of a young boy going to school on a summer day. The boy loves summer mornings, but to have to go to school when the weather is so nice is a misery to him. He sits at his desk in boredom and cannot pay one iota of attention to the lesson, so desperately does he wish to be playing outside. In the fourth verse, the speaker asks, “How can the bird that is born for joy / Sit in a cage and sing?” Here the poet is comparing young children, so full of energy and happiness, to songbirds, who deserve to tumble free and soar on the winds. But, like songbirds trapped in a cage, children trapped in a classroom cannot express themselves, cannot capitalize on all that excess energy, and therefore their potential is being wasted.

The speaker addresses parents in the final two verses, asking how, “…if buds are nipped / …and if the tender plants are stripped / of their joy...How shall…the summer fruits appear?” That is, if children are stripped of their ability to play and have fun in the summer season, how shall they grow and develop to the fullest extent?

This poem is about allowing children to be children – to run and play outside, to experience the benefits of nature and of the seasons. This practice is equally as beneficial to them as academic learning, and in times such as those in the poem, arguably more so, for on this beautiful summer day the speaker can pay no attention to his lessons – he would rather be outside.

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