The Rights of Women

Original Text: 
The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, Volume I (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, Paternoster-Row, 1825), pp. 185-87. PR 4057 B7 1825 v.1. Robarts Library.
2Woman! too long degraded, scorned, opprest;
3O born to rule in partial Law's despite,
4Resume thy native empire o'er the breast!
6That angel pureness which admits no stain;
7Go, bid proud Man his boasted rule resign,
8And kiss the golden sceptre of thy reign.
9Go, gird thyself with grace; collect thy store
10Of bright artillery glancing from afar;
11Soft melting tones thy thundering cannon's roar,
12Blushes and fears thy magazine of war.
13Thy rights are empire: urge no meaner claim,--
14Felt, not defined, and if debated, lost;
15Like sacred mysteries, which withheld from fame,
16Shunning discussion, are revered the most.
17Try all that wit and art suggest to bend
18Of thy imperial foe the stubborn knee;
19Make treacherous Man thy subject, not thy friend;
20Thou mayst command, but never canst be free.
21Awe the licentious, and restrain the rude;
22Soften the sullen, clear the cloudy brow:
23Be, more than princes' gifts, thy favours sued;--
24She hazards all, who will the least allow.
25But hope not, courted idol of mankind,
26On this proud eminence secure to stay;
27Subduing and subdued, thou soon shalt find
28Thy coldness soften, and thy pride give way.
29Then, then, abandon each ambitious thought,
30Conquest or rule thy heart shall feebly move,
31In Nature's school, by her soft maxims taught,
32That separate rights are lost in mutual love.


1] McCarthy and Kraft (p. 289) explain that this poem replies to Mary Wollstonecraft's mocking of Barbauld's poem, "To a Lady, with some painted Flowers", a criticism in Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). Barbauld's poem says that the life-purpose of the lady she addresses is to "please." Back to Line
5] panoply: ceremonial armour or garb. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1997.