‘Song: How sweet I roam’d from field to field’ by William Blake is a four stanza poem that is made up of sets of four lines or quatrains. Each of these quatrains follows a consistent rhyming pattern of abab, alternating as the poet saw fit from stanza to stanza. Blake has also chosen to format this piece in iambic tetrameter. This means that each line is composed of four sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second stressed.
As will become clear as the poem progresses, the speaker is a woman. She is relishing in the beauty of summer, and then is captured by the “prince of love.” Eventually, he puts her in a cage, stretches her “golden wings” and makes her sing. Later, the speaker uses the name “Phoebus.” This is a lesser-known name for the Greek god Apollo. He was known for his often unwanted forays into relationships with women and is being used as the antagonist in this story of a woman losing her innocence.
This piece was first published in Blake’s poetry collection, Poetical Sketches, in 1783. But it was written much earlier. Scholars have come to the conclusion that it was composed when Blake was only fourteen years old.
Summary of Song: How sweet I roam’d from field to field
The poem begins with the speaker describing how she often wandered from field to field, enjoying the height of summer. One day while she is walking she comes upon a man, someone she describes as the “prince of love.” It is later revealed that this being is in fact, Apollo. His intentions appear to be good at first. He dotes on her and attempts to make her love him.
Soon that changes though. He captures her in a net, places her in a cage, and forces her to sing to him There is no end to this narrative, making it likely that the speaker never escaped her fate.
Analysis of Song: How sweet I roam’d from field to field
How sweet I roam’d from field to field,
And tasted all the summer’s pride,
‘Till I the prince of love beheld,
Who in the sunny beams did glide!
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by utilizing the line that would become the title of the poem. She is describing her own actions and the fluidity and gentleness with which she moved from “field to field.” These fields are located in various places and likely contain different types of plants. They are all blooming and flourishing in the middle of summer. Through her trips to these fields, she is able to “taste…all the summer’s pride.” The days through which she travels are the best of summer.
In the next line, she describes coming upon the “prince of love” in the fields. As will be revealed later in the text, the prince is in fact the Greek god Apollo. He is often depicted as having wings, or at least the ability to fly, and is in this instance attempting to woo the speaker. The fact of his ability to fly is utilized by the poet in the fourth line of this stanza in which Apollo is said to “glide” through the “sunny beams” in the fields. The speaker has come to such a beautiful place and discovered that it is in fact divine. Gods frequent the fields as well.
He shew’d me lilies for my hair,
And blushing roses for my brow;
He led me through his gardens fair,
Where all his golden pleasures grow.
In the second quatrain, the speaker describes her interaction with Apollo. The god “shew’d” or showed the speaker “lilies for” her hair and “roses for [her] brow.” These two flowers are also in the prime of the summer lives. The roses are said to be “blushing,” a reference to their color and to the way Apollo is making the speaker feel.
The next two lines inform the reader that the speaker is in fact in the fields of Apollo. These lands belong to him and somehow she has wandered into their boundaries. Another interpretation could read this line as more transitory. Apollo is able to claim whatever land he likes and so he does when it suits him.
He takes the speaker through the “gardens” of the land and showed herald of “his golden pleasures.” This line fits with the natural theme of the poem but also alludes to underlying sexuality. The god has intentions for this speaker.
With sweet May dews my wings were wet,
And Phoebus fir’d my vocal rage;
He caught me in his silken net,
And shut me in his golden cage.
In the second line the speaker refers to Phoebus, a less common name for the god Apollo. He is known as the god of music, the sun and poetry, among many other things. It has been Apollo all along courting and making nice with the speaker. That is about to change though.
The god tests the woman’s “vocal range” and decides that he must have her. He takes out his “silken net” and catches her. Before she knows it she has been locked in “his golden cage.” As was the case throughout much of Greek mythology the gods are able to act on their basest instincts, often without consequence.
It is important to take note of the “silken” nature of the net and the “golden” make-up of the cage. While these items are luxurious and clearly made for a god, that does not decrease their malevolence.
He loves to sit and hear me sing,
Then, laughing, sports and plays with me;
Then stretches out my golden wing,
And mocks my loss of liberty.
In the last four lines, the speaker’s fate is sealed. She is forced to remain in his possession and made to “sing” while he sits and listens. The speaker has become a captive pet to the god who torments her. He “stretches out” her “golden wing” and “mocks” the situation she is in. These lines show the true cruelty of Apollo. He lacks any sense of empathy and takes clear pleasure from the torture of another living being.
The woman has made a quick and dramatic transformation from a life filled with wanderings to one controlled by a masochistic god. Her wings that once gave her freedom, are being plucked and pulled by a being who has taken it away.