Anna Letitia Barbauld's Washing Day
In "Washing Day" Anna Letitia Barbauld has done what Romantic poets can do best. She writes of an event that occurs periodically in every-day life, but she elevates the washing day chore to a challenge of epic proportions. Barbauld views the experience of wash day from the perspective of the woman she is and the child she was. At all times she is the poet who relates the Muses' song as a medieval minstrel might. Her skillful use of irony and hyperbole allows this poem to convey to contemporary readers the same humor and insight that an eighteenth-century audience would have appreciated.
Barbauld uses classical references and a few archaic words to give the poem an epic feeling.…show more content…
It is a word that would not be in common use in everyday speech, but it is a word typical of epic poetry, and it helps to make the subject seem far more important than it is.
When the poet speaks about the wifely duties that will be ignored on wash day, she not only uses a classical reference, but also an extreme exaggeration. The lady of the house is unavailable to darn her husband's stockings even if the hole "gape wide as Erebus." The yawning entrance to the underworld can't really be compared to a hole in one's sock, but this is exactly what Barbauld does. She also exaggerates the potential disaster of rain on wash day. Even though saints could meet martyrdom with a smile, a housewife cannot face the horrors of rain and mud on this day.
Barbauld is also able to speak in more plain language about "loaded lines snapped," "dirt and gravel stains," and "the wet cold sheet" that "flaps in thy face abrupt." The images are simple and direct. The picture painted of the friend "whose evil stars" caused him to call on wash day is very amusing. The hostess finds it impossible to welcome the guest warmly, and the husband is not able to make up for her lack of cheer. Consequently, the guest "in silence dines, and early slinks away."
There is a change of mood and perspective at line 58 as