William Blake's "Nurse’s song"


The Nurse's Song
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 every thing 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 & play till the light fades away
And then go home to bed
The little ones leaped & shouted & laugh'd
And all the hills ecchoed

This is a poem full of simple and evocative. The poem, written in four stanzas, describes a scene full of purity and harmony.

The first stanza, compounded by sentences in the passive voice, produces the sense of seeing the scenes as if they were still images. In this stanza the author creates the background in which all the action happens in the following stanzas. This stanza contains sensory impressions of sound (children voices, laughing), visual images (green, hill), and touch (heart within breast).

The second stanza interrupts the stillness represented in the first one by introducing dialogue. The nurse asks the children to “leave off play” in order to go home and wait until the next morning. This stanza combines description of nature and the Nurse’s request to the children.

Although, in the third stanza, the children answer to the nurse’s request, they stay part of the background; they respond that the day has not ended yet since still “little birds fly” “and the hills are still covered with sheep”

The second and third stanzas show the difference of perception between the adult figure, represented by the nurse, and the children. In the second stanza, the nurse’s perception is that it is getting dark, it seems that she does not want to wait until it is too dark in order not to able to see the kids at playing. The description that she makes of the landscape depicts the sense of darkness that she perceives with the phrases “the sun is gone down” and “the dews of night arise”. She rather prefers go back home and return to play early in the morning. On the other hand, the children seem to perceive the sunset, as an opportunity to take advantage of the last light provided by the sun in order to play until darkness takes over. In their response, their description show the opposite of what the nurse perceives, they perceive movement and action. It is interesting, that the children talk about “little birds” flying, as opposed to birds in general, what they want to point out, therefore, is that the birds’ children are playing too and it is too early to go back home. The children compare themselves with the little birds and sheep as a way to reinforce the nurse’s confidence in them since birds and sheep are even more defenseless than themselves.

In the last stanza, the nurse agrees to let the children play longer. In this stanza, the images of the children are brought to the foreground in the verse “the little ones leaped & shouted & laugh’d”, but then, they are brought back to the background by the image in the last verse “And all the hills echoed”. The resonance of the echo, produces the cinematographic effect of gradually bringing images from a medium shot, to a panoramic view, restoring the idea of stillness from the first stanza.

The image painted in the poem shows the contrast in the imagination of children and adults, the nurse, seems to be immerged into a book that she holds in her lap. Her imagination separates her from the group. She is seated by a tree, looking down at the book, she seems to be disconnected from the physically from the circle the children are doing. The main difference is that the nurse’s imagination seems to be triggered only by reading from the book, whereas the kids do not need of any external medium to enter into their imaginary world. In both cases though, imagination seem to take over and everything becomes part of the silent background. The image of the circle created by the children holding hands, includes the nurse as well, even thought she is not holding hands with them. The circle then, represents the circle of imagination both for the adult and the children.