Tag Archives: innocence

“Nurse’s Song” by William Blake (from Songs of Innocence)

NursesSong

As I near the end of the Songs of Innocence, the “Nurse’s Song” is next up.

When the voices of children are heard on the green,
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast,
And everything else is still.        

Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,
And the dews of night arise;
Come, come, leave off play, and let us away
Till the morning appears in the skies.    

No, no, let us play, for it is yet day,
And we cannot go to sleep;
Besides, in the sky the little birds fly,
And the hills are all cover’d with sheep.

 Well, well, go and play till the light fades away,
And then go home to bed.
The little ones leaped & shouted & laugh’d
And all the hills echoed.

I see this as a coming-of-age poem. The transition from day to night symbolizes the transition from childhood to adulthood. As evening falls, the nurse tells the children to “leave off play.” It is time for them to mature and accept the responsibilities of being an adult.

But the transition is not easy, and the children point out that there is some daytime left, hence, they still have a little more time to be carefree and young. When they respond that “it is yet day, And we cannot go to sleep;” they are asserting that they are not yet ready to consign their youth and innocence to the realm of dream and memory. They want to remain children for a little while longer.

The nurse concedes: “Well, well, go and play till the light fades away.” She allows the children to enjoy the last of their innocence as they are at the threshold of adulthood. Once they cross that threshold, the light of happiness within them will begin to fade as they sadly take their places in the world of responsibility and sorrow.

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“The Stolen Child” by W. B. Yeats

StolenChildThis morning I read “The Stolen Child” by W. B. Yeats. I’d read the poem in college, but it had been a while since I had last read it. The poem is a little too long to post on the blog, but you can click here to read it online.

(Note: There is a discrepancy between the online versions I found and the version in my print book edited by M. L. Rosenthal. The last line in the online versions starts with “For” but in the print version it begins with “From.” This greatly changes the meaning of the last line, in my opinion, so just consider that when reading.)

The poem is basically an allegory of the loss of childhood fantasy and imagination which seems to be told from the perspective of the faery folk. The child believes in faeries and magic, but the “real” world of adulthood is poised to steal the child away from the realm of imagination and draw the child into the world of sorrow and weeping. In addition to the basic interpretation, I recall discussions in college about how this poem could also be symbolic of Irish culture being stolen by the English, or pagan traditions being usurped by Christianity.

Structurally, the poem works like a childhood song. There is a refrain at the end of each stanza which enhances the musical feel. I would not be surprised if someone put this to music. If I didn’t have to start work soon, I would search YouTube to see if anyone has done so.

There are a couple of passages that stood out for me on this reading which I’d like to look at closer.

We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances,
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;

What I found interesting about these lines is that they invoke an image of Celtic tradition, particularly with the weaving. I almost get a sense of artists designing Celtic knots. The words also conjure imagery of pagan dances. I can envision people dancing around a May Pole, weaving their ribbons as they dance in circles around the pole.

The other passage that I found interesting is:

We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;

The first thing that struck me is that trout do not have ears, so there is no way that anyone could whisper into a trout’s ear. There are a couple possible interpretations here. First, it could be the child’s imagination creating an image of a fish with ears, but also–and this is what I find the most thought-provoking–it could symbolically represent how faeries communicate with people in our realm. I suspect that Yeats viewed faeries as beings from another dimension, and that the threshold between these dimensions is easily crossed by children. As adults, greater effort is required to cross the span between realms. But the issue arises: how do beings from different planes of reality communicate? I think that Yeats was trying to express that faeries communicate in a non-verbal manner with people in our realm, that the words are projected directly into our psyches, similar to speaking into the non-existent ears of a fish.

The more I read Yeats’ works, the more I appreciate his genius. He can be challenging, but that is a good thing when reading poetry, since the thing about poetry which I love the most is that it seeks to express that which is difficult to express in a way other than through symbols. Cheers, and thanks for reading!

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