‘Nurse’s Song’ by William Blake is a description of an unpretentious encounter between a nurse and a group of children who are playing on a hill. The nurse finds happiness in the sounds and glee of the children, and he or she permits them to continue playing when they request more time before having to return home. The poem finishes by returning to the general notion of the sounds of the children’s merriment, bringing the reader on a full-circle journey.
‘Nurse’s Song’ begins and ends with the children’s happiness being the primary focus, and the wording and presentation of the poem further enhance the notion that the delight is, in fact, the primary factor of the nurse and the poem itself through its four stanzas of ABCB rhyme scheme. Within ‘Nurse’s Song,’ the differences between children and adults in regard to thinking are referenced, and the beauty of a young mind is noted.
Nurse’s Song Analysis
When the voices of children are heard on the green,
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast,
And everything else is still.
This first stanza wastes no time in bringing the focus directly to the children and their happiness by diving right into the sounds of their “voices” as they enjoy the day. The scene is officially set as taking place on a hill, which in itself could be conceived as another means of showing the heightened levels of joy the children experience. Rather than taking place in a flat area, this choice of occurrence offers a physical elevation to mimic the rise of happy emotions the children are experiencing.
From there, the attention shifts from the children’s actions to go into the nurse’s reaction to the circumstance, which offers a contrast to the liveliness of the children. Instead of “laughing” in merriment as the children are doing, the nurse is “at rest” and feels that “everything is still” because of the gleeful sounds the children are making. This is an important moment of distinction within the poem since it shows a difference in the adult’s actions in contrast to the children’s behavior. The children are laughing to show their excitement, but the nurse sits in peaceful stillness. This variation not only highlights that adults are different, maybe even incapable of embracing that same unabashed joy that children can exude, but it brings to light the concept that an adult does not need to showcase his or her happiness, in the same manner, to appreciate and share in that unabashed joy. The nurse hears and is happy, but exists in that happiness in a much calmer fashion than the children—because of the children. They are what brings her joy just by being near their joy and laughter.
‘Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,
And the dews of night arise;
Come, come, leave off play, and let us away
Till the morning appears in the skies.’
The perspective of ‘Nurse’s Song remains on the nurse for this second stanza as he or she beckons for the children to “leave off play” for the sake of going home. Night has come, and as can be expected from a rational adult, the nurse knows the practical thing to do is to end the games the children had relished in during the daytime. The language within this stanza shifts into something simpler than what the reader encountered in the first stanza and that change is reasonable as the nurse is conversing directly with the children rather than in open narrative form.
Phrasing like “leave off play, and let us away” not only embraces alliteration between the phrasing, but it sounds endearing in a way that feels like it’s custom made for children. It’s spoken as a command, but with words, so simple that only one is over one syllable long—and even that word, “away,” is something a child would be familiar with. The language is familiar and basic, and there’s an affection in the stanza that highlights a softness the nurse feels for the children. By calling them “my children,” the nurse has created a definite appearance of connection with them as if they have become incredibly dear to his or her heart. The stanza finishes with a promise of later play, proving that the nurse has no intention of keeping the children from their merriment beyond the very adult mentality of bringing them indoors after dark.
‘No, no, let us play, for it is yet day,
And we cannot go to sleep;
Besides, in the sky, the little birds fly,
And the hills are all cover’d with sheep.’
The perspective in this stanza shifts to the children as they reply to the nurse with their arguments as to why their play should be allowed to continue. In contrast to the nurse’s earlier declaration that “The dews of night arise,” the children are arguing that night is still coming. This differentiation of argument could be a number of things. Perhaps the children are lying to get their way, and if this scenario were the case, it would speak to the limitless reach of children to attain something that they desire, like creating a tall-tale for the sake of playing a little longer.
An explanation that seems just as likely—maybe more so—is that the children are interpreting the situation differently. The adult is seeing the beginning of the “dews” as an indication that night has come. The children, however, are fixated on other details that do not indicate that the day is gone. Their focus on the livelier things to prove their point, birds, and sheep, highlights a child’s nature to look for the most active elements around him or her, while simultaneously mimicking the children’s own merriment. The children laugh and such, and that behavior is reflected in their choice of evidence that “it is yet day” as everything they reference is a living—and presumably awake—being. The adult, contrariwise, is focused on the detail that was as “still” and “at rest” as he or she was told to be in the first stanza.
Their insights then reflect who they are and provide a very different viewpoint about night and day. When the adult sees the stillness of dew, to him or her, the time has come to go home. For the children, so long as living beings are about, they “cannot go to sleep” as “it is yet day.”
‘Well, well, go and play till the light fades away,
And then go home to bed
The little ones leaped and shouted and laugh’d,
And all the hills echoed.’
Once more, the nurse is the speaker, and he or she submits to the children’s whims to allow them to play longer. Within this stanza, we find evidence that the children were not, in fact, lying about it still being day because they’re now instructed to “play till the light fades away.” With that in mind, either the nurse has succumbed to their untruth to permit it to stand, or he or she is admitting that the children’s logic held validity. Though the dew has come, there’s still light, and as long as there’s light, it’s still day enough to play.
This is a simple notion that seems to reflect the overall message of ‘Nurse’s Song.’ Children see things differently than adults, and while adults cannot be children, they can find happiness—and in this case, reason—from a child’s thoughts. The children’s reasoning could be expanded as a moral that adults can take, that livelihood and happiness should be kept and treasured for every moment that circumstances allow. The idea that the children rejoiced so grandly at the extended playtime supports this theory since the small offering was sufficient to incite a joy enough to have them “leap[ing] and shout[ing].”
Worth noting as well is the idea that this poem ends with what, for the first time, is not a perfect ABAB rhyme scheme since “echoed” would only rhyme with “bed” if you extend “echoed” to pronounce the “ed” sound at the end. Only if one pushes boundaries to their fullest, like extending “echoed” until the very last letter, is conclusiveness found in the stanza to match the previous ones. It can be inferred from that detail that a theme within the poem is that a person must push the limits, like a child, to find the most vivid happiness available.
About William Blake
William Blake was an English poet born in 1757 whose poetic works span into the 1800s and whose interests also included painting. While he was not the most well-known of poets in his lifetime, his works have been noted and uplifted by the likes of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In addition to being a poet, he was also a book illustrator.