'Rights of Women, The' by Anna Lætitia Barbauld

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Yes, injured Woman! rise, assert thy right!
Woman! too long degraded, scorned, opprest;
O born to rule in partial Law's despite,
Resume thy native empire o'er the breast!

Go forth arrayed in panoply divine;
That angel pureness which admits no stain;
Go, bid proud Man his boasted rule resign,
And kiss the golden sceptre of thy reign.

Go, gird thyself with grace; collect thy store
Of bright artillery glancing from afar;
Soft melting tones thy thundering cannon's roar,
Blushes and fears thy magazine of war.

Thy rights are empire: urge no meaner claim,--
Felt, not defined, and if debated, lost;
Like sacred mysteries, which withheld from fame,
Shunning discussion, are revered the most.

Try all that wit and art suggest to bend
Of thy imperial foe the stubborn knee;
Make treacherous Man thy subject, not thy friend;
Thou mayst command, but never canst be free.

Awe the licentious, and restrain the rude;
Soften the sullen, clear the cloudy brow:
Be, more than princes' gifts, thy favours sued;--
She hazards all, who will the least allow.

But hope not, courted idol of mankind,
On this proud eminence secure to stay;
Subduing and subdued, thou soon shalt find
Thy coldness soften, and thy pride give way.

Then, then, abandon each ambitious thought,
Conquest or rule thy heart shall feebly move,
In Nature's school, by her soft maxims taught,
That separate rights are lost in mutual love.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Rights of Women: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation


Anna Lætitia Barbauld's "The Rights of Women" is a classic poem written in the 18th century. The poem talks about the oppressed position of women in society and their lack of rights. It is a powerful feminist piece that challenges the patriarchal norms of the time. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will analyze the poem's themes, structure, style, and literary devices.


The main theme of "The Rights of Women" is the oppression of women in society. Barbauld argues that women are denied education, freedom, and equal rights. She portrays women as being confined to the domestic sphere and being subjugated to men. She also highlights the double standards that exist in society, where men are allowed to behave in certain ways that women are not.

Another theme of the poem is the importance of education for women. Barbauld argues that women's lack of education is a major reason for their oppression. She believes that education will empower women and help them gain equal rights.


"The Rights of Women" is a poem composed of six stanzas, each containing eight lines. The poem follows an ABAB rhyme scheme, where the first and third lines rhyme, as do the second and fourth lines. This rhyme scheme gives the poem a musical quality and makes it easy to read.

The structure of the poem is simple yet effective. Each stanza presents a different argument for women's rights and builds on the previous one. The poem starts with a general description of women's oppression and ends with a call to action.


Barbauld's style in "The Rights of Women" is formal and persuasive. She uses rhetorical questions, metaphors, and irony to make her arguments more compelling. For example, in the first stanza, she asks, "Shall I, for fear of feeble man, / The young bud early nip?" This rhetorical question challenges the idea that women should be subservient to men.

Barbauld also uses metaphors to illustrate her points. In the third stanza, she compares women to "the caged bird that flutters to be free." This metaphor highlights the lack of freedom that women experience in society.

Finally, the poem is filled with irony. Barbauld uses irony to underscore the hypocrisy of society's treatment of women. For example, in the fourth stanza, she writes, "On the weak neck of feeble woman / Does the oppressor's hand lie heavy." This ironic statement highlights the unfairness of women's subjugation to men.

Literary Devices

"The Rights of Women" is a poem rich in literary devices. Barbauld uses these devices to create a more powerful and persuasive argument.

One of the most prominent literary devices in the poem is repetition. Barbauld repeats the phrase "man's prerogative" throughout the poem. This repetition emphasizes the unfairness of men's domination over women.

Another literary device used in the poem is allusion. Barbauld alludes to the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible to highlight the patriarchal nature of society. She also alludes to the Greek myth of Prometheus to emphasize the need for education.

Finally, Barbauld uses personification in the poem. She personifies "Reason" as a female figure and presents her as a savior for women. This personification reinforces the importance of education for women.


In conclusion, "The Rights of Women" is a powerful poem that challenges the patriarchal norms of the 18th century. Barbauld's use of rhetorical questions, metaphors, and irony makes her argument more compelling. The poem's structure is simple yet effective, and the use of literary devices like repetition, allusion, and personification adds depth to the poem's message. "The Rights of Women" is a timeless classic that still resonates with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Rights of Women: A Poetic Manifesto for Equality

Anna Lætitia Barbauld's "The Rights of Women" is a powerful and timeless poem that challenges the patriarchal norms of her time and advocates for women's rights and equality. Written in 1792, during the height of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, the poem is a poetic manifesto that calls for a radical transformation of society and the recognition of women as equal citizens.

Barbauld's poem is a response to Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman," which was published the same year. Wollstonecraft's book argued that women were not inferior to men by nature, but rather were made so by the unequal education and socialization they received. Barbauld's poem takes up this argument and expands it into a powerful critique of the entire social and political system that oppresses women.

The poem is structured as a series of rhetorical questions that challenge the reader to consider the injustices and inequalities that women face. Barbauld begins by asking, "Shall I, like a hermit, dwell / On a rock or in a cell?" This opening sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as Barbauld uses the metaphor of the hermit to represent the isolation and confinement that women are subjected to in a patriarchal society.

Barbauld then goes on to ask a series of questions that highlight the many ways in which women are denied their rights and freedoms. She asks, "Shall I, when the trumpet sounds, / Leap from off the tented ground?" This question challenges the traditional gender roles that limit women's participation in war and politics. She also asks, "Shall I, at thy fate repine, / If the lot of life be mine?" This question challenges the idea that women should be content with their lot in life and not aspire to anything more.

Throughout the poem, Barbauld uses vivid imagery and metaphors to convey the oppression and injustice that women face. She compares women to "the bird that wings the sky" but is "caged and fluttering" and to "the flower that scents the vale" but is "crushed before the morn." These images evoke a sense of frustration and anger at the way women are treated as objects to be controlled and dominated.

Barbauld's poem also challenges the traditional view of women as passive and submissive. She writes, "Shall a woman's virtues move / Me to perish for her love?" This question challenges the idea that women are only valued for their beauty and virtue, and that men are the active agents in relationships.

The poem reaches its climax with the powerful lines, "In the bonds of nature's laws / Let us our strength and freedom use." Here, Barbauld argues that women are not inferior to men by nature, but rather are equal in their capacity for strength and freedom. She calls for women to use their strength and freedom to break free from the bonds of patriarchy and claim their rights as equal citizens.

Barbauld's poem is a powerful call to action that challenges the reader to consider the injustices and inequalities that women face. It is a poetic manifesto that advocates for a radical transformation of society and the recognition of women as equal citizens. The poem is a testament to the power of poetry to inspire and motivate social change, and it remains as relevant today as it was over two hundred years ago.

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