Thomas Hood

A Lake and a Fairy Boat by Thomas Hood

‘A Lake And A Fairy Boat’ by Thomas Hood is a three-stanza poem that utilizes rhyme scheme, verb choices, and wordplay to symbolize the process of growing from a child with an active imagination to an adult with a more reality-based way of thinking. It is clear through these aspects of the poem that Hood prefers the childish imagination, and the passing of it is treated as a sad thing. In this, the reader can infer that theme of the poem is that childish wonder is a beautiful element of life, one that is progressively forgotten but “should” always be grieved.

A Lake and a Fairy Boat by Thomas Hood


A Lake And A Fairy Boat Analysis

First Stanza

A lake and a fairy boat

To sail in the moonlight clear, –

And merrily we would float

From the dragons that watch us here!

A number of things about this first stanza set the playful tone that can be expected from a “fairy” poem, and one of the primary structural elements to do so is in the ABAB rhyme scheme. It resembles a skipping motion of joviality and childhood, so it is a grand fit to mimic the playful edge of the work. Like a child bounces along with steps, while skipping, the stanza bounces from A to B and back again as Hood journeys through the poem.

Another element that brings this playful element is the description of the environment in which “we” are potentially noted as “sail[ing].” Specifically, it was “in the moonlight clear.” The common method of using adjectives in the English language places the adjective before the noun, so reversing the order takes the reader a bit out of reality and typical structure. In fact, it makes the stanza feel like a once-upon-a-time scenario where reasons and logic fade away under wonder and impossibility.

The story that unfolds with this playful edge is that “[a] lake and a fairy boat” “would float [f]rom the dragons” after setting “sail in the moonlight clear.” Little to nothing of this is actually possible, which gives reason to the playful tone of the work. There is no “fairy boat” or “dragons” as the stanza presents, so the reader must either take these elements as a fictitious tale or find a deeper, figurative meaning for the imaginative details expressed within the stanzas. For this deeper reason, it is possible that Hood is using a figurative and imagined scenario to comment on the wonder of youthful thought.

This would be a detail that is mirrored in the wording since this plot could be a game a child plays, but it also is accompanied by words and ideas that fit with moving away from a stage in life. For instance, “the dragons that watch us here” are presented as stationary, as if they will not move along with the “us” that is noted to “float” away. What this could indicate is that childhood remains a stationary fixture in life, and when people step into a more adult frame of mind, childhood ideas do not make the journey with them. Like “the dragons,” they have left behind after people “sail” away.

The concept of “merrily” is fitting as well since children often look forward to growing up. They would be happy to “sail” from childhood, even though their youthful imagination could be lost in the process, and this idea is brought to the scenario with Hood’s word choice.


Second Stanza

Thy gown should be snow-white silk

And strings of oriental pearls,

Like gossamers dipped in milk,

Should twine with thy raven curls!

The narrative shifts in this second stanza of ‘A Lake and a Fairy Boat‘ to move from the first-person, “we,” to the third-person, “[t]hy.” This could seem like an unnecessary jump, but it is a great choice to express the details of youthful wonder and imagination. A child decided to play a game could include their friends in the details, so it would make sense to turn to address a particular person. Essentially, it would be like saying, “We’re playing hide and seek—you hide first!” A primary difference, however, between the hide and seek notion and the poem’s narrative is that the poem is much more specific and imaginative in the direction given and is only related to appearance. In this, the reader can infer that the vividness of the childhood imagination is so strong that ideas extend well past the basic notions into territory that is particular and grand.

For this noted game, “[t]hy gown should be snow-white silk” with “oriented pearls” that are similar to “gossamers dipped in milk” while existing in “twine with thy raven curls.” There is significant commentary hidden within these images. For instance, Hood has used some of the most elegant and exquisite concepts to present this costume for the imagined scenario with “silk” and “pearls,” but he has paired it with concepts that are more childish. The “gown should be snow-white” is an example of this since “snow-white” is based on the name of a fairy tale character, and also because it can be an indication of innocence that is had in childhood.

As well, the idea that the presentation “should” look like “gossamers dipped in milk” is childlike because it is using a drink so connected to childhood to express the visual. By using both types of commentary, Hood has created a situation where it feels like youth is present, but adulthood is coming to be as well. This means that this stanza could exist as the transitional detail between a person’s youth where “dragons” and “a fairy boat” can be present and more adult concepts like “pearls” and “silk.”


Third Stanza

Red rubies should deck thy hands,

And diamonds should be thy dower –

But fairies have broke their wands,

And wishing has lost its power!

In the third stanza of ‘A Lake and a Fairy Boat,’ the description of the costume continues with adult ideas of “rubies” “[a]nd diamonds,” but there is nothing present within those two lines that indicate any sort of childhood idea. In fact, the wording can be taken so literally—even with basic colors chosen for the gems—that this description no longer needs to be a part of a game at all. It could rather be spoken about boosting a jewelry collection. This is a step into adulthood that completely shakes free of childhood elements, which grounds this stanza in an adult method of thinking.

This concept is further established in the final two lines of the poem that note that “fairies have broke their wands [a]nd wishing has lost its power.” Essentially, once adulthood has been embraced, all of that childhood wonder may come to an end, and the exclamation point that wraps up this idea speaks of how important this idea is. It is not treated as a good thing, given that it is described with things being “broke[n]” and “lost,” so that exclamation point indicates the volume of sadness that taints this process. All elements of “dragons” and “fairy” are gone, and all that is left is reality.

Overall, this is a poem that showcases growing from an imaginative child to a sensible adult in a step-by-step method, and the process is noted as something worth lamenting. Youthful wonder is “lost,” and though it may be replaced by thoughts of “diamonds,” it is still lacking. This detail is apparent in the idea that “dragons” are noted in the first stanza to “watch,” which is a definite concept, while “diamonds” are only referenced as something that “should” be. For a child then, anything is possible, but this unsteady shift in verb choice shows that as childish imagination fades, the world becomes a more limited place where what “should” be may never happen. Essentially, once the childhood imagination is “lost,” life loses a bit of its beauty.


About Thomas Hood

Thomas Hood was an English poet born in 1799 who worked as a poet, engraver, and editor, among other positions. He married Jane Reynolds in 1824 and was heavily involved with the magazine industry. He passed away in 1845. Read more poetry from Thomas Hood.

Discover the Essential Secrets

of Poetry

Sign up to unveil the best kept secrets in poetry,

brought to you by the experts

Connie Smith Poetry Expert
Connie L. Smith spends a decent amount of time with her mind wandering in fictional places. She reads too much, likes to bake, and might forever be sad that she doesn’t have fairy wings. She has her BA from Northern Kentucky University in Speech Communication and History (she doesn’t totally get the connection either), and her MA in English and Creative Writing. In addition, she freelances as a blogger for topics like sewing and running, with a little baking, gift-giving, and gardening having occasionally been thrown in the topic list.
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The Best-Kept Secrets of Poetry

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry ever straight to your inbox

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry, straight to your inbox

Start Your Perfect Poetry Journey

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap