The North Wind Doth Blow

‘The North Wind Doth Blow,’ also sometimes known as ‘The Robin,’ is a short English nursery rhyme that may date as far back as 16th century England.

the north wind doth blow

Like many nursery rhymes from the time period and even earlier centuries, it’s unclear who wrote the initial lyrics. This information is lost to time, as is how the song evolved and what exactly inspired it.

The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow,

And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?

He’ll sit in a barn and keep himself warm

and hide his head under his wing, poor thing.

The North Wind Doth Blow Nursery Rhyme


Summary

‘The North Wind Doth Blow’ is a thoughtful, short song about what a robin does or doesn’t do during a winter snowstorm.

The speaker starts the song by acknowledging that a winter storm is coming, the north wind is blowing, and that “we” will have snow. These things are statements of fact. They’re going to happen, and the “poor robin” is going to have to deal with them in some way. They wonder in the second line what the creature could possibly do to outlast such a cold storm. The answer quickly follows. Although it’s not much, the robin will sit in a barn and hide his head under his wing. The speaker continually expresses sympathy for the bird throughout.

Themes

Throughout this piece, the author engages with themes of nature and survival. The robin, who is at the center of the poem, is of great concern to the speaker. They have a connection to this animal that makes them curious about how the bird is going to survive an upcoming winter storm. The natural elements cannot be avoided when one is living out in the woods, and it seems that there’s no way the “poor thing” could survive such a storm.

Structure and Form

‘Cold and Raw the North Wind Doth Blow’ is a four-line nursery rhyme that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB with both ‘B’ end rhymes using the same word, “thing.” This is an example of an exact rhyme. The lines also conform to a regular martial pattern of iambic pentameter. Although the pattern is not completely perfect, the majority of the lines/words are structured this way. This means that the lines contain five sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed.

Literary Devices

Throughout this short poem, there are a few examples of literary devices that readers may find of interest. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line of verse. For example, line one reads: “The North wind doth blow, and we shall have snow.” Here, there is a natural pause in the middle between “blow” and “and.”
  • Alliteration: can be seen when the same consonant sounds are used at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “what will” in line two and “hide his head” in line four.
  • Repetition: occurs when the same images, words, structures, ideas, or other literary elements are used more than once. In this case, the words “poor thing” at the ends of lines two and four (an example of epistrophe).
  • Personification: seen through the depiction of the robin as sad and suffering from the cold. While these things may be true, the use of words like “hide” make the creature seem more human than an animal.


Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-2

The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow,

And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?

In the first lines of ‘The North Wind Doth Blow,’ the speaker begins by using the line that later came to be used as the title. This is often the case with these older nursery rhymes. It’s possible that at one point, the song had another title but, information like this is often lost with time. The speaker describes how the north wind is blowing and “we shall have snow.” The “we” in these lines is likely a reference to their immediate friends and family as well as to the broader area in which they live. This is likely somewhere in England, as that’s where historical records indicate the song originated.

The speaker asks a question in the next line, expressing concern for what the robin is going to do during the storm. He calls it “poor” twice in the same line. It’s clear he feels pity for the small bird and is finding it hard to understand how these little creatures survive when the weather is so bad. It’s interesting to consider why the writer chose the robin for this poem. What is it about that particular bird that evokes such empathy and sympathy?

Lines 3-4

He’ll sit in a barn and keep himself warm

and hide his head under his wing, poor thing.

The next lines explain what the speaker thinks the robin is going to do. He’s going to sit in “a barn” and keep himself warm. Here, it should be noted that the speaker says “a barn,” not “the barn.” He doesn’t know exactly where the bird is going to end up but thinks he’ll land in a barn somewhere.

The bird is going to do his best to keep himself warm by hiding his head under his wing. This is the little protection the bird is going to be able to fend for himself while human beings can sit inside by their warm fires. The song is meant to evoke feelings of pity for the bird while also making listeners curious about how other beings live their lives. What do other animals do during a snowstorm, a young listener might ask.

FAQs

What is the tone of ‘The North Wind Doth Blow?’

The tone is concerned and pitying. The speaker expresses both of these things for the robin, who does not have the resources they have to survive the winter storm.

What is the purpose of ‘The North Wind Doth Blow?’

The purpose is to acknowledge and consider the lives of other animals while also creating a short and interesting song. The lines are not complicated. They’re easily understood by readers of all ages and should therefore be entertaining enough for a wide variety of readers as well.

What is the meaning of ‘The North Wind Doth Blow?’

The meaning is that all creatures suffer from changes in the weather and must make changes in their lives to survive. Like human beings have to make preparations and stay inside by the fire, animals have to do the equivalent in their lives.

Who is the speaker of ‘The North Wind Doth Blow?’

The speaker is someone who cares about animals, especially robins, and is interested in their lives. It’s unclear whether it’s a man or a woman or what age they are. They could be a young speaker, someone who has a child’s curiosity about nature, or someone who is older and relating to the robin’s plight.

What is the mood of ‘The North Wind Doth Blow?’

The mood is solemn and curious. The reader is left with the image of a “poor robin” hiding out in a barn in the cold, trying its best to remain warm. This is a pitiful thing to imagine, but the entire song might spark a reader’s curiosity about how the bird, and other animals, make it through a winter storm.


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘The North Wind Doth Blow’ should also consider reading some other nursery rhymes. For example:

  • Foxy’s Hole’ – a nursery rhyme that talks about putting a finger in the fox’s hole to find if it’s there or not.
  • Yankee Doodle’ – a short poem that describes a man, someone called Yankee Doodle, and his actions.
  • There was an old lady who swallowed a fly’ – a funny children’s rhyme. It describes an old lady who swallows everything from a fly to a cat to a horse.

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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