Throughout ‘To a Little Invisible Being Who is Expected Soon to Become Visible’ Barbauld uses slightly complicated, elevated language in addition to a simple rhyme scheme to describe how excited her speaker is for the child to be born. While the “being” might be “invisible” now, soon they’re going to take their place in the world and make a big impact.
Explore To a Little Invisible Being Who is Expected Soon to Become Visible
The speaker spends the ten stanzas of this piece talking to and celebrating the life of an as of yet unborn child. They’ve spent many months growing and are soon going to enter into the world. The speaker can’t wait for that moment to come so that everyone can greet the child and they can start on their path to a successful and amazing life. She knows that the latter is certainly going to be the case. The poem concludes with the speaker saying that if there was anything she could do to hurry the child along, she’d do it.
Anna Lætitia Barbauld engages with themes of new life, childbirth, and potential in ‘To a Little Invisible Being Who is Expected Soon to Become Visible.’ The speaker talks to the child, celebrating its future life without noting whether or not its a boy or a girl, of if they’re being born to a rich or poor family. These things don’t matter, she alludes, the child is going to live wonderfully no matter what. It’s impossible to walk away from this poem without noting the joy the speaker feels, and wants to convey, in regard to the child entering into the world. She considers the future occasion as the most wonderful thing that could happen in life.
Structure and Form
‘To a Little Invisible Being Who is Expected Soon to Become Visible’ by Anna Lætitia Barbauld is a ten stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple and consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. The lines are all of a similar length, stretching for around ten or eleven eleven syllables per line.
Anna Lætitia Barbauld makes use of several literary devices in ‘To a Little Invisible Being Who is Expected Soon to Become Visible.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and caesura. The latter is a formal device that occurs when the poet creates a pause in the middle of a line. This might be due to the use of punctuation or through a natural pause in the meter. For example, line two of stanza six which reads: “Part of herself, yet to herself unknown.” Line four of stanza three is another good example, it reads: “Haste, infant bud of being, haste to blow!”
Alliteration is a type of repetition that occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “precious pledge” in line three of the first stanza as well as “launch,” “living,” and “light” in line two of the ninth stanza. There are several other examples that are quite easy to spot throughout the poem.
Enjambment is another important literary device, one that occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines one and two of the sixth stanza.
Stanzas One and Two
Germ of new life, whose powers expanding slow
For many a moon their full perfection wait,—
Haste, precious pledge of happy love, to go
Auspicious borne through life’s mysterious gate.
What powers lie folded in thy curious frame,—
Senses from objects locked, and mind from thought!
How little canst thou guess thy lofty claim
To grasp at all the worlds the Almighty wrought!
In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker begins by using a technique known as an apostrophe. This means the speaker is talking to someone, or something, that cannot hear them or cannot respond. In this case, the speaker is talking to an unborn child. She refers to the child as the “Germ of new life.” They’re growing every day she says, and will soon enter into the world, leaving behind this period of their life. It’s a slow process and one that she celebrates.
The speaker wonders, through several exclamations, what the child’s life is going to be like. What powers are in the child’s future? How could the child, she says, ever understand how important they’re going to be? In these lines, Barbauld’s language is fairly complicated, but the use of the perfect rhyme scheme helps create a sing-song-like pattern that feels suited for a child.
Stanzas Three and Four
And see, the genial season’s warmth to share,
Fresh younglings shoot, and opening roses glow!
Swarms of new life exulting fill the air,—
Haste, infant bud of being, haste to blow!
For thee the nurse prepares her lulling songs,
The eager matrons count the lingering day;
But far the most thy anxious parent longs
On thy soft cheek a mother’s kiss to lay.
In the third stanza, the speaker continues to talk to the child, telling them about everything beautiful they’re going to see as soon as they’re born. She’s so excited to share the season’s warmth, the beauty of flowers, and the simple breath of life.
“For thee,” she starts the fourth stanza, the nurse is preparing songs and other women wait, counting down the days. All the while, the child’s parents are waiting for the opportunity to kiss the child on the cheek.
Stanzas Five and Six
She only asks to lay her burden down,
That her glad arms that burden may resume;
And nature’s sharpest pangs her wishes crown,
That free thee living from thy living tomb.
She longs to fold to her maternal breast
Part of herself, yet to herself unknown;
To see and to salute the stranger guest,
Fed with her life through many a tedious moon.
The poem gets a bit more complicated in the next stanzas as the speaker alludes to what this child’s mother hopes. She wants to hold her child and feel the child as part of herself, a new part that has limitless potential. The child is going to go farther and do more than she ever did. It’s possible to read these lines, as well as the rest of the poem, as an argument for equality, between the sexes and economic classes. She’s celebrating this child, without naming them or gendering them. The narrator is thrilled for their entry into the world for their sake entirely.
Stanzas Eight and Nine
Come, reap thy rich inheritance of love!
Bask in the fondness of a Mother’s eye!
Nor wit nor eloquence her heart shall move
Like the first accents of thy feeble cry.
Haste, little captive, burst thy prison doors!
Launch on the living world, and spring to light!
Nature for thee displays her various stores,
Opens her thousand inlets of delight.
In the eighth stanza, she uses another exclamation to call forth the child and ask them to come into the world to see the love that’s waiting for them. They’re going to “Bask in the fondness of a Mother’s eye” and live a good life from the start. She believes that the child’s cry when it enters into the world is going to be far more beautiful than any verse or song she’s ever heard.
The ninth stanza uses a metaphor of a captive in prison to depict the child in the womb. “Burst thy prison doors” she says and enters into the light. The child is so important, she implies, that nature is putting on a display.
If charmed verse or muttered prayers had power,
With favouring spells to speed thee on thy way,
Anxious I’d bid my beads each passing hour,
Till thy wished smile thy mother’s pangs o’erpay.
In the final stanza of ‘To a Little Invisible Being Who is Expected Soon to Become Visible,’ the speaker says that if there was any way to hurry the child along, she’s been engaged in that action. No prayer, she thinks, or song (like this one) have the power to affect the speed at which the child comes into the world. But, if they did, praying, singing, or reading would be all she did every day so she could sooner see the child’s and the mother’s happiness.
Readers who enjoyed ‘To a Little Invisible Being Who is Expected Soon to Become Visible’ should also consider reading some of Anna Lætitia Barbauld’s other poems. For example:
- ‘The Rights of Women’ – suggest the power a woman might have if she resisted the rules of society and rose up to take control of her life.
- ‘To the Poor’ – a moving poem in which the speaker addresses the impoverished children of the world and encourages them to persevere through life.
Another interesting and related poem is:
- ‘Child of Our Time’ by Eavan Boland – a stark and moving poem that describes the aftermath of a child’s death during “The Troubles”.