In lines 1 and 2 Egerton is referring to the position of Custom in her society. Custom has seemingly overtaken the role of reason. This means that people were blindly following Custom and people were suffering. In this poem, as will be evident later, the people that are suffering the most are women as a whole.
In Lines 19 through 22 Egerton is referring to the fear that men have in her society. This fear is that women ‘should excel their sluggish parts,' meaning that women would ‘outsmart' them. She says that they (the men/their husbands) pretend that women are designed for them alone to simply raise their status in society.
In lines 15 through 18 Egerton is referring to the fact that some women yield to men like they are vanquished kings, meaning they submit but they only submit in form. They (the men) would think they are 'laying restraints on the soul' but in reality they are only submitting to put on a show - so to speak.
Here in line 13 Egerton is saying that men are wise to keep them Slaves because if they didn't the women would if they were loose (or free) be able to make them Slaves. She means that if women were free to do as they wished they might usurp the men and their position in society.
Here in line 10 Egerton is referring to the fact that Men, meaning husbands and Men in general come together in a way to actively keep their Wives from going outside of the norm of Custom. They desire to keep the women in awe because they might learn something and be ahead of them in some way.
In lines 8 and 9 we see what life was like for a woman durind the 18th century. During the 18th century women were seen as property of their husbands. The woman could not make any legal decisions on her own. It went so far as to say that when a couple were married they became one person, with the man having legal sanction over her. Her husband is allowed to have 'ill manners' because it is justified by law, in this case she could be referring to the laws of England or Biblical law.
1. Say, Tyrant Custom, why must we obey
2. The impositions of thy haughty Sway;
3. From the first dawn of Life, unto the Grave,
4. Poor Womankind's in every State, a Slave.
5. The Nurse, the Mistress, Parent and the Swain,
6. For Love she must, there's none escape that Pain;
In Lines 3 and 4 Egerton is referring to the fact that in her society that in every state of life - from birth (dawn of Life) to death (the Grave)- she is a Slave. This can be referenced back to lines one and two with the impositions of Custom.
In her society she is also saying in lines 5 through 7 that as a woman she is saying that she just can't simply remain single, 'for love she must.' Throughout the stages of her life she is also set into these particular categories; the Nurse (the caregiver) and the Parent, being the two foremost occupations of women in the 18th century. The Pain she is referring to is childbirth. The fatal Slavery can be noted as marriage.
7. Then comes the last, the fatal Slavery,
8. The Husband with insulting Tyranny
9. Can have ill Manners justify'd by Law;
10. For Men all join to keep the Wife in awe.
11. Moses who first our Freedom did rebuke,
Egerton here in lines 11 and 12 is referring to the fact that when Moses wrote the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) he was in fact married. She is referencing the fact that even then marriage and local Custom was a factor in the suppression or the Slavery (as she would put it) of women, and in fact is still a factor for her then.
12. Was Marry'd when he writ the Pentateuch;
13. They're Wise to keep us Slaves, for well they know,
14. If we were loose, we soon should make them so.
15. We yield like vanquish'd Kings whom Fetters bind,
16. When chance of War is to Usurpers kind;
17. Submit in Form; but they'd our Thoughts control,
18. And lay restraints on the impassive Soul:
19. They fear we should excel their sluggish parts,
20. Should we attempt the Sciences and Arts;
21. Pretend they were design'd for them alone,
22. So keep us Fools to raise their own Renown;
23. Thus Priests of old their Grandeur to maintain,
In lines 23 and 24 Egerton is referring to the Priests of the time period that were suggesting that vulgar Eyes (the eyes of women) would Profane the Laws of Scripture. Again this is a reference to the overall feeling of superiority of men over women, that goes to the religious aspects of life as well.
24. Cry'd vulgar Eyes would sacred Laws Profane.
25. So kept the Mysteries behind a Screen,
26. There Homage and the Name were lost had they been seen:
27. But in this blessed Age, such Freedom's given,
In lines 25 through 28 Egerton is referring to the fact that the Mysteries (of God) were kept behind a Screen to women (hidden), and any knowledge that they could have gained would have been squelched. But, Egerton seems almost optimistic in that she claims that ‘every Man explains the Will of Heaven,' meaning that not only a priest need explain the ways of God; that the spiritual realm of the world should be open to everyone.
28. That every Man explains the Will of Heaven;
29. And shall we Women now sit tamely by,
30. Make no excursions in Philosophy,
31. Or grace our Thoughts in tuneful Poetry?
32. We will our Rights in Learning's World maintain,
In lines 29 through 33 Egerton is referencing the fact that there are some women that are sitting idly by (‘tamely') and make no attempts at learning or the non-domestic realm such as philosophy or poetry. Considering the status of women in the 18 th century and the fact that they were basically property of their husbands, lines 32 and 33 can be seen as a rather bold statement. In those two lines she is claiming that women will gain their rights to learn and the world of ‘Wit' will know the female voice.
33. Wit's Empire, now, shall know a Female Reign,
34. Come all ye Fair, the great Attempt improve,
35. Divinely imitate the Realms above:
36. There's ten celestial Females govern Wit,
37. And but two Gods that dare pretend to it;
38. And shall these finite Males reverse their Rules,
In lines 34 through 39 this is Egerton's call to action of sorts to woman of her time. She is saying that there are ten Celestial women that govern Wit and only two men that pretend to it, meaning that women are able to usurp the position that they have been given in their society. She claims that in the end that if Men reverse their rules and should actually let the women into the fields of the Arts and Sciences that the men would be made the fools for a change - instead of the other way around.
39. No, we'll be Wits, and then Men must be Fools.