Laughing Song

William Blake

‘Laughing Song’ is about an imagined instance of what will happen “[w]hen” a time comes, but will only happen after a series of impossible obstacles.


William Blake

Nationality: English

William Blake was one of the greatest artistic and literary geniuses of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Notable works include 'The Tyger,' 'The Schoolboy,' 'The Lamb,' 'A Poison Tree,' and 'London.'

‘Laughing Song’ by William Blake is a three-stanza work that notes an imagined instance of what will happen “[w]hen” a time comes, but that something will only happen after a series of impossible obstacles that Blake has insisted upon. “When” they occur—and only then—can the happiness and togetherness that is noted at the end of the poem come to be. In this, Blake has addressed a real desire to have this closeness with this other person, but the impossible elements he has listed that must first happen to indicate that he does not believe that the wanted ending will happen. This seems to be a likely theme of ‘Laughing Song.’

Laughing Song
William Blake

When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy,And the dimpling stream runs laughing by;When the air does laugh with our merry wit,And the green hill laughs with the noise of it;

When the meadows laugh with lively green,And the grasshopper laughs in the merry scene;When Mary and Susan and EmilyWith their sweet round mouths sing 'Ha ha he!'

When the painted birds laugh in the shade,Where our table with cherries and nuts is spread:Come live, and be merry, and join with me,To sing the sweet chorus of 'Ha ha he!'
Laughing Song by William Blake

Laughing Song Analysis

First Stanza

When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy

And the dimpling stream runs laughing by

When the air does laugh with our merry wit

And the green hill laughs with the noise of it

There is personification early in ‘Laughing Song’ in the number of things that are noted as having the potential to “laugh.” These items include “the green woods,” “the dimpling stream,” “the air,” “[a]nd the green hill” in this particular stanza, and all of these concepts are nature-based. This is a bit of juxtaposition since these natural elements being able to “laugh” is actually unnatural. Just as they cannot “laugh,” they also cannot have a “voice of joy” or “merry wit.” Essentially, every main element within this stanza is given traits that it cannot possess, which boosts the meaning from literal to figurative.

When paired with the idea that this is all provided the indefinite time frame of “When” they occur, the figurative notion escalates since this means it is not in the past, is not happening, and may never happen if it turns into a fleeting idea for the future. These are lovely thoughts, but impossible, so this “[w]hen” becomes something like a fairy tale or wistful dream. Only then, after all, would “the green woods laugh” and such.

Also worth noting is that there isn’t any punctuation mark at all in this stanza. While this makes sense in regard to the lack of periods—there isn’t a full sentence thus far—it does feel as though a comma could be present in some position. Without these details of commas and full sentences, the story’s whimsical trait escalates like a story that is being unfolded in the most dramatic way. The main idea is continuously delayed as more personification is showcased, and the narration gets a bit lost in the details that lead to the ending idea.

This is like a fairy tale that begins in lush terms of once-upon-a-time that are flowery and boost the figurative qualities, but do little to communicate the actual plot. In this, Blake has used the first stanza of dependent clauses to begin a tale that is a stretch of the imagination. Just as these dependent clauses keep pushing the poem’s main idea farther away, the reader can infer that Blake’s ending desire for ‘Laughing Song’ will be far-fetched to match.

Second Stanza

when the meadows laugh with lively green

And the grasshopper laughs in the merry scene

When Mary and Susan and Emily

With their sweet round mouths sing “Ha, ha he!”

The first two lines of this stanza provide new things that “laugh” that actually cannot experience a typical “laugh”—“the meadows” “[a]nd the grasshopper.” This time, though, they are not given further human traits beyond the “laughing,” like the “voice of joy” and “merry wit.” The existence of only the “laugh” is a step into a more literal direction because of this lost secondary quality. That the stanza ends with something that could feasibly happen boosts this dose of reality. Though the reader might not know who “Mary and Susan and Emily” are, people with these names could “sing.” It is unlikely, given the nonsensicality of the song, but it is possible.

In the midst of all of the figurative elements that have come already, this stands as a real-world possibility to indicate a speck of grounding within the figurative notions. Contrariwise, that real-world prospect is tainted with those nonsensical lyrics. In this, the reader is confronted with a blend of reality and imaginary as what is not achievable shifts into some that are technically possible, but unlikely.

The consequence of this combination is that the reader is granted a hint that while this situation is far-fetched and drenched in imagination, the core meaning of it is grounded in a speck of truth. What that truth can be at this point, the reader cannot know since there has yet to be a full sentence to showcase the ending thought of what happens “[w]hen” these details occur. The reader must wait until the final stanza to decipher these elements of the work.

Third Stanza

When the painted birds laugh in the shade

Where our table with cherries and nuts is spread

Come live, and be merry, and join with me

To sing the sweet chorus of “Ha, ha, he!”

The narration returns to the impossible with “the painted birds laugh[ing] in the shade.” There is more than one element within this simple concept that is worth noting, and that return to impossibility is only one of them. The idea that the “birds” are “painted” is noticeable as well since it is another detail that takes the narration into a higher level of imagination. Those “birds” may be of various colors, but “painted” makes the coloring sound like a childish, artistic action rather than a natural state.

This play on words makes the imagery feel more playful, and as the stanza continues, that playfulness becomes the main sensation of the work. The “table” noted includes “cherries and nuts,” which is a random pairing of foods to choose from, and this is the first mention of a “table.” Overall, it is as though this “table” has appeared out of nowhere, and its contents are foods that have little to no connection. A “table” with a full meal, after all, would have larger foods.

Whatever the reason for choosing these potentially unrelated foods—perhaps it is just a personal preference of taste—it is as though the author gives the prospect so little thought that he says whatever comes to mind. This indicates that the details do not matter as much as the final thought—the thing that will happen “[w]hen” all of these nonsensical details come to be.

That thing to happen is that the person Blake is addressing will ideally “[c]ome live, and be merry, and join with [him t]o sing” the nonsensical song that “Mary and Susan and Emily” earlier showcased. Overall, this is the end goal for everything that has been stated. Blake wants this happiness with the person he is addressing, but he has placed so many impossible details that must happen as obstacles that the odds of it surfacing are non-existent. For instance, “green woods” will never “laugh.”

Essentially, he has created a series of events that sound wonderful, but can never happen, thus keeping his happy ending out of reach. It is ideal, basically, but he realizes it is not a possibility. But as was noted with the speck of reality from the “sing[ing]” in the second stanza, Blake wants this to be real. In this, he is saying that what he wants can never come to be, but he will imagine it as a wondrous possibility.

About William Blake

William Blake was an English poet, born in 1757. He lived his childhood in a relatively well-off family of seven children, though one of his siblings died early. He enrolled in an art program when he was only ten before becoming an apprentice to an engraver at the age of fourteen. He would become known for his artistry work and writing. Read more of William Blake’s poems.

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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.

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