Analysis of Blake's "Nurse's Song": Symbolism, Imagery, and Themes

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Analysis of Blake's "Nurse's Song"

Structure and Versification

The poem comprises four quatrains with an ABCB rhyme scheme. The first two stanzas incorporate internal rhymes in the third line, enhancing the song's calm, rhythmic quality, further amplified by the rolling anapaestic meter. The third stanza, representing the children's voices, features internal rhymes in the first and third lines, perhaps mirroring the repetitive nature of pleading. They mimic the adult's syntax but:

  • Counter the authoritative "Come, come" with "No, no."
  • Substitute "leave" (stop) with "let" (allow).
  • Transform "away" into "play."

In the fourth stanza, the internal rhyme shifts to the first line, as if the Nurse echoes the children, highlighting their symbiotic relationship. The third stanza's harsh spondee and C consonants in "Come, come" and the heavy-sounding "leave off" convey anxiety. However, stanza four begins with the softer, more relaxed "Well well go," the ampersand suggesting ease and speed. The second line's three iambic feet reassert a firmer authority. The abrupt last line casts the only shadow, "wrong-footing" the reader by omitting the final stress (even if "echoed" is pronounced with the last syllable stressed).

Imagery and Symbolism

The Green

Blake's symbolic village green embodies three interconnected aspects:

  • Green symbolizes growth, fertility, and spring.
  • Village greens were spaces of play and freedom, representing the importance of imagination.
  • As common land, village greens signified freedom from authority, contrasting with "chartered" towns.

This image underscores the poem's central themes of freedom and play, suggesting the Nurse's inner freedom and harmony with nature.

The Nurse

The Nurse embodies the nurturing capacity within humans, protecting the vulnerable and innocent. She finds joy in her caregiving role, devoid of any desire for control. However, this capacity can be twisted into a desire to dominate.

Fading Light

 - Unlike The Ecchoing Green, the darkness appears much earlier in Nurse's Song. The children focus only on making the most of the daylight. However, the nurse is aware of the threat that lurks in darkness (‘the dews of night arise' seems unhealthy) and the need to be responsible in terms of the day to come. That the children desire to play as the light fades could symbolise their developing maturity and fading innocence. The Nurse's acquiescence can be variously interpreted as:

  • A wise realisation that the children need to learn to cope in the dark
  • Permission to play as long as possible is a way of extending her charges' innocence given the inevitability of darkness / experience
  • Her continuing pastoral care
  • An abdication of responsibility. .

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