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A Fairy Song by William Shakespeare

‘A Fairy Song’ by William Shakespeare features in the well-loved play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s sung by a fairy and describes their work.

a fairy song by william shakespeare

These lines can be explicitly found in Act II Scene I and is sometimes referred to ‘Over Hill, Over Dale.’ The poetic monologue references various elements from the play, most notably, the Fairy Queen, Titania. ‘A Fair Song’ is spoken by a fairy and directed at Robin Goodfellow. They are in response to Robin’s question: “How now, spirit? Whither wander you?” 

A Fairy Song
William Shakespeare

Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire!
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon's sphere;
And I serve the Fairy Queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green;
The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours;
In those freckles live their savours;
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.
A Fairy Song by William Shakespeare


Summary

‘A Fairy Song’ by William Shakespeare is an interesting and musical monologue from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

IN the first lines of this song, the fairy begins by saying that they travel “over hills” and “dales,” or valleys. They go through bushes and over confined spaces. They travel through water and fire. These dramatic lines are followed by more seemingly hyperbolic statements. They say they wander faster or swifter than the moon goes around the earth. Then, that they work for Titania, the Fairy Queen, they organize dances. 

The speaker also describes the cowslip flowers are “her pensioners,” or bodyguards. Their petals contain rubies and smell sweet. Now, the speaker concludes, they have to go and find some “dewdrops” and hang a pearl on every cowslip’s ear. The fairy says goodbye to Robin, calling him a “lob of spirits,” and announces that the queen is coming soon. 

Structure and Form 

‘A Fairy Song’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line, single stanza poem that is structured in the traditional Shakespearean form. This form requires that the sonnet be made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet.

The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, and it is written in iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed, and the second is stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM.

Literary Devices 

Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘A Fairy Song.’ These include but are not limited to: 

  • Repetition: occurs when an element of a poem, such as a structure, word, phrase, etc., is repeated. For example, the use of anaphora in the first lines when “over” begins lines one and three. 
  • Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words, for example: “bush” and “brier” in line two and “park” and “pale” in line three. 
  • Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line of verse. For example: “Thorough flood, thorough fire!” and “Thorough bush, thorough brier.” 


Detailed Analysis 

Lines 1-4

Over hill, over dale,

Thorough bush, thorough brier,

Over park, over pale,

Thorough flood, thorough fire!

In the first lines of ‘Over hill, over dale,’ the speaker begins by responding to Robin Goodfellow’s question. The fairy is traveling around the landscape, facing “flood” and “fire” all with the intention of serving Titania, the Fairy Queen. The fairy goes through “bush” and “brier” as well as over valleys in their quest.

In this opening quatrain, the speaker is emphasizing how hard they work and the distances they travel. The lines are quite musical as well, something that is consistently interesting throughout A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 

Lines 5-8 

I do wander everywhere,

Swifter than the moon’s sphere;

And I serve the Fairy Queen,

To dew her orbs upon the green;

In the second quatrain, the speaker goes on to say that they work for or “serve” the Fairy Queen, or Titania. This is an example of an allusion. Without prior knowledge about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it’s unlikely that readers are going to understand what exactly is going on in this short poem. 

The speaker says that they wander faster than the moon orbits the earth and organize fairy dances for her “upon the green” or in the grass. 

Lines 9-14 

The cowslips tall her pensioners be;

In their gold coats spots you see;

Those be rubies, fairy favours;

In those freckles live their savours;

I must go seek some dewdrops here,

And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.

In the next few lines, the speaker goes on to say that the cowslips, a specific type of flower, are her “pensioners.” This is an archaic way of saying that they are her bodyguards. They’re an essential part of fairy life, and the speaking fairy has to go around and hang “a pearl” from every cowslips ear” at the end of the poem. The fairy wishes Robin farewell and heads off to prepare for Titania’s arrival. 

FAQs

What is the tone of ‘A Fairy Song?’ 

The tone is descriptive and passionate, then finally dismissive. The speaker is explaining their job, what they’re doing and where they’re going with the passion of someone who believes wholeheartedly in their profession. 

What play is ‘A Fairy Song’ in?

‘A Fairy Song’ is in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is sung by a Fairy who is talking to Robin Goodfellow. 

When was ‘A Fairy Song’ written?

‘A Fairy Song’ was written in 1595 or 1596 at the same time as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 

What is the theme of ‘A Fairy Song?’

The theme is one of work and magic. The speaker is explaining their work and doing so with passion. 


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed ‘A Fairy Song’ should also consider reading some other William Shakespeare poems. For example: 

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a fairy song by william shakespeare
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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