‘The Swing’ by Robert Louis Stevenson is a three stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. These quatrains follow a structured rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABAB CDCD EFEF. It is normal within children’s poetry for a rhyme scheme to exist within the text. They are often very prominent and simple. This gives the piece a sing song-like rhythm that only enhances the rhythm of the meter. IN the case of ‘The Swing’ one should take note of how the pattern bounces along, mimicking the up and down motion of the swing.
The metrical pattern is also quite simple, it alternates every other line between ten and six syllables. This, along with the consistent rhyme scheme, makes the text quite easy to read as there are no surprise twists or turns.
Stevenson uses a number of poetic techniques in this text that make use of repeition. These include anaphora and assonance. Anaphora is seen in the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of the line. A very clear example is the refrain that begins four of the lines in this short poem, “Up in the air…” It occurs once in the first and second stanzas and twice in the third.
In regards to assonance, or the repetition of a vowel sound within the words of a line or lines, one can see it occurring most obviously within line two of the third stanza. The “o” sound is used repeatedly in this line, dragging out the process of the swing falling from its highest height.
Summary of The Swing
The poem begins with the speaker asking the listener how much they like to swing up into the blue air. This is a rhetorical question, as seen by the speaker’s quick response. They love it more than anything and think its the best thing a child could spend their time doing.
In the next stanza the child speaker describes how when they are swinging at their highest height they are able to see over a wall and into the countryside beyond. There are farmlands and farm animals, all waiting to be discovered. On the way back down they see the brown roof of their home. The descent is dragged out by the long “o” sounds utilized by Stevenson, but once they reach the bottom they quickly escape from the mundane and travel back up into the sky.
Analysis of The Swing
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by asking a question. This question, and the lines the follow, make it clear that this speaker is a young child. It is unclear who the intended listener is supposed to be. It could also be a child, or another adult the speaker is excitedly talking to.
The question this child asks is about swinging “Up in the air so blue.” This phrase “Up in the air” is repeated throughout the poem. It appears in each stanza, and begins a total of four lines. It is a perfect example of anaphora.
He or she wants to know how much the listener likes to do this. There is no room for a reply as the speaker goes right into their own answer. They think that it is the “pleasantest thing” that a child could do. There is nothing else that brings one more pleasure than the freedom of flying on a swing.
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—
The first line of the second stanza of ‘The Swing’ begins with the refrain, “Up in the air…” The speaker is imagining the best moments they have had on the swing and the joy they felt when they rose so high they could see “over the wall.” This gives the reader one simple detail about the setting. It is enough to where one can assume this swing is located within a distance of a structure, perhaps a house or the boundaries of a farm or garden.
When the child swings this high they are able to see “so wide.” In the flashes they get of the land beyond the wall they see “Rivers and trees and cattle and all.” They are wild images, things that can only been seen, at least from that perspective, from the swing.
It is clear that the swing gives the child a sense of power that he or she doesn’t have when they are on the ground. They get a view all “Over the countryside” when the swing. The child’s day to day earthly life dissolves as their height increases.
Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
In the final four lines Stevenson utilizes the bouncing motion of the rhyme and rhythm to simulate the up and down progress of the swing. The child has risen up to see over the wall, and then as the swing starts to fall they “look down” and see the “garden green.” This clarifies a bit more of the setting. The swing is in a garden and it is the garden wall the child is looking over.
On the way back down the child also sees the “roof so brown.” It is the opposite of the countryside, as it is dark and familiar. It is part of the child’s home and it represents safety and the mundane everyday. Luckily, it quickly floats away again.
The last two lines both begin with the phrase “Up in the air…” As long as the child has the energy to push the swing, they will continue in this arch, up above the wall, and then back down below. The poem concludes without a real conclusion. It is clear that the joy of swinging is going to continue on for a while longer, as the swing goes up “and down!”