The Rights of Woman

By Anna Letitia Barbauld

Edited and annotated by Jack Lynch

The poem was published in 1792. The notes are my own.

The Rights of Woman

Yes, injured Woman! rise, assert thy right!
Woman! too long degraded, scorned, opprest;
O born to rule in partial Law’s despite, partial = biased
Resume thy native empire o’er the breast! native empire = power you were born with

Go forth arrayed in panoply divine; [5] arrayed = dressed; panoply = splendid armor
That angel pureness which admits no stain; admits no stain = cannot be stained
Go, bid proud Man his boasted rule resign,
And kiss the golden sceptre of thy reign.

Go, gird thyself with grace; collect thy store gird = equip; collect = gather
Of bright artillery glancing from afar; [10]
Soft melting tones thy thundering cannon’s roar,
Blushes and fears thy magazine of war. magazine = storehouse for weapons

Thy rights are empire: urge no meaner claim, — meaner = lower
Felt, not defined, and if debated, lost;
Like sacred mysteries, which withheld from fame, [15] fame = rumor
Shunning discussion, are revered the most.

Try all that wit and art suggest to bend wit = intelligence; art = technique
Of thy imperial foe the stubborn knee;
Make treacherous Man thy subject, not thy friend;
Thou mayst command, but never canst be free. [20]

Awe the licentious, and restrain the rude; awe = overwhelm; licentious = immoral
Soften the sullen, clear the cloudy brow: sullen = moody
Be, more than princes’ gifts, thy favours sued; — sued = begged for
She hazards all, who will the least allow. hazards = risks

But hope not, courted idol of mankind, [25]
On this proud eminence secure to stay; eminence = high point
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, [30]
In Nature’s school, by her soft maxims taught, maxims = rules
That separate rights are lost in mutual love.