‘Friends‘ is a four stanza poem that is separated into a set of four lines, or quatrains. Brown has chosen to structure the poem with a consistent rhyme scheme. The lines follow a pattern of abab cdcd efef gaga. This common, easily recognizable pattern fits well with the straightforward syntax. It also gives the poem a sing-song like sound, as if the words are being sung, or even being spoken aloud as a parable.
The simplicity of the text makes sense when one considers Brown’s larger body of poetic work. She was known mainly during her life as a children’s author, although she did go on to write poetry for adults and compose song lyrics. Her first book children’s book, The Book of Saints and Friendly Beasts, was published in 1900 and contains Christian stories. This adds credence to the idea that this piece is meant to take on the role of a parable, or a tale directed towards children, teaching a lesson.
The poem begins with the speaker describing how she finds joy and peace in equal measure out in nature. She likes to go and “lie a little while” underneath a specific tree. From her spot there she sees the sky above her, looking down and protecting her. She is also able to enjoy the feeling of the dappled sunlight on her skin and take in the lace-like patterns it produces.
In the second half of the poem, she describes the way the “Wind” sneaks up on her and whispers “pretty things” in her ear. Everywhere around her there is a force of nature ready to comfort her if she needs it.
You can read the full poem here.
Themes and Images
Due to the straightforward nature of this piece the themes are easy to pick out. The first is an appreciation for nature, seen through the representation of the kind “Sky” and the “kisses” given by leaves. Nature has been personified throughout the text in order to give it a greater agency. It speaks to a larger power at work, interacting with the children of the world.
Another theme, that of comfort and solidarity, is perhaps more important. The speaker is using nature as a way to tell the listener that there is a comfort to be found in the most basic elements of the world. The references also speak to an underlying divine power which acts through these forces.
Analysis of Friends
How good to lie a little while
And look up through the tree!
The Sky is like a kind big smile
Bent sweetly over me.
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by making a statement about the pleasure available when one takes the time to step into nature. In particular, she brings up the way it feels “good to lie” and “look up through the tree!” It was important to Brown that these lines remain simple, she was not seeking to make a grand statement about the qualities of nature.
Instead, she is seeking to inspire a reader to take advantage of the simple “good” that exists outside. Also interesting to note is the fact that she wrote “the tree” rather than “a tree.” She is imagining one particular place and is perhaps recalling a real experience.
In the next two lines, one is given an emotional, personified version of what one could see through the leaves and branches of the tree. If one took the time to really look at the sky they would see that it is “like a kind big smile.” Here, the speaker also transitions to the first person. It becomes clear that this is very much her narrative. She is describing one particular experience she had and wants to have again. The sky bent over her as she looked up at it. It is not dominating or intimidating, instead, it appeared caring and parental. It looks down on her as if to comfort her. This relates directly back to the second theme mentioned in the introduction.
The Sunshine flickers through the lace
Of leaves above my head,
And kisses me upon the face
Like Mother, before bed.
In the second stanza the speaker goes on to describe the sky in more detail. It is not just the blue expanse that looks down on her. There is also the “Sunshine.” It appears, off and on, through the “lace / Of leaves.” The speaker is describing the effect of dappled sunlight as it comes down onto her own face and the ground around her. Brown chose to use the word “lace” in order to increase the beauty of the scene. The word also speaks to the complicated patterns one would see if they were in her position.
Brown returns to the same theme of comfort in the next two lines. This references the feelings of pleasure and safety one gets when they are given “kisses” on their face by their “Mother.” The speaker relates the feeling of the sunlight, warming her sporadically, to the pinpoints of joy and love conveyed through a kiss. Nature is being depicted very positively. It has the ability to imbue one with feelings of childhood and a purer kind of happiness that is not as accessible as an adult.
The Wind comes stealing o’er the grass
To whisper pretty things;
And though I cannot see him pass,
I feel his careful wings.
At the halfway point of the poem the speaker transitions to talking about another force at work in and around the sky above her head, the wind. It is capitalized, just as “Sunshine” and “sky” were. This helps in Brown’s relentless personification of the forces. They are more easily seen as independent entities this way.
The “Wind” is described as “stealing o’er the grass” around the speaker. It seems to sneak up on her as if wanting to surprise her with its whispers. Once again, this act is not described negatively. It is a beautiful sensory image conveyed by Brown and easily imagined by a reader. The wind is speaking to her, telling her “pretty things.”
The wind is further personified in the next two lines. She describes it as passing on “careful wings.” It came quietly and moved away with the same grace. The speaker also adds that she knew the wind was there, but could not see “him pass.”
So many gentle Friends are near
Whom one can scarcely see,
A child should never feel a fear,
Wherever he may be.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker goes on to describe the “Wind,” “Sky,” and “Sunshine” as being “gentle Friends.” They are constant companions that will come to one if one only takes the time to ask. Although it is not stated explicitly in the poem, it is easy to see how these natural elements represent a larger force at work, perhaps the presence of God. He is always felt but not always seen in nature.
The fact that the sky, sun, and wind are forever present in one’s world means that “A child should never feel a fear.” These friends, representing the power of God, are there to soothe and guide one in times of need.