‘To a Child’ by William Wordsworth is a concise poem. The shortness of the poem can be deceiving. There are some specific reasons for the poem being too short. Wordsworth might have been thinking something big at the back of his mind while penning down his thoughts. However, the poem is a kind of advice to a little child with whom the poet might have met physically or mentally someday. He metaphorically suggests the child protect her innocence and advises the kid to cherish the purity inside her heart.
Summary of To a Child
In ‘To a Child’ by William Wordsworth, the poet advises a little child who is not visible in the poem. Wordsworth clarifies what is “true service” to the child. If she is truly serving someone, no matter how small the service is, the goodness will last forever with her and with the person. The poet guides her to be humble and not to look down upon anyone. After that the poet uses a metaphor of the “daisy” and the “dew-drop” to tell the child to keep the essence of humanity always alive in her heart.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
‘To a Child’ by William Wordsworth is only four lines long. The last word of the first line, “lasts” rhymes with the last word of the third line, “casts.” Likewise, in the second line, “one” rhymes with “sun” in the last line. Thus the rhyme scheme of the poem is AB AB. The short structure of the poem is suggestive of the subject matter of the poem. The poet is advising a child. If he starts to give a lecture to the child, she will feel bored. He has to say more in fewer words to grab her attention as well as to make her think about his advice. This can be one of the reasons for the poem being too short in its structure.
Sound and Meter
‘To a Child’ by William Wordsworth is even in its metrical structure. The poem is in a perfect iambic pentameter format. Iambic pentameter consists of five feet, each of the feet having a rising rhythm. The rhythm goes on like this “daa-dum,” and it continues till the end. This meter is standard in romantic poems. The sound scheme of the poem suggests a playful flow. It also refers to the exalting subject matter, which the poet talks about.
Apart from the poem’s primary meter, there are individual variations too. In the first line, the poet makes use of spondees. A spondee consists of two stressed syllables in it. In this line, “Small, ser(vice)” and “true ser(vice)” are the spondees. In the last lines, the last foot is an anapest. An anapaestic foot consists of three syllables, and the stress falls on the last syllable like an iambic foot.
‘To a Child’ by William Wordsworth is too short to contain too many poetic devices. There are absolutely some important literary devices which make the poem a thought-provoking specimen of art.
- Line 1: In the first line, the poet uses such a device called epigram. In an epigram, the idea seems to be absurd at first. After rereading, it becomes clear to the reader. The thought of the poet in the first may seem unclear at first but reading it for the second time makes it clear. The poet is referring to the service which a person provides with truthfulness and purity at heart.
- Line 2: In the second line, “however humble” is the use of alliteration. Here the “h” sound repeats in the consecutive words. Hence it is also a consonance. This line also contains a structural literary device called hyperbaton or inversion.
- Line 3: The third line becomes complete with the idea of the poet in the following lines. Such kind of structural continuation used in poems is an example of the literary device called enjambment. The “daisy” is a metaphor of humanity. It is also a symbol of the positive energy in our hearts. The last line makes the significance of this metaphor clear to the readers.
- Line 4: In the last line of the poem, “dew-drop” is a metaphor of the soul. The shadow cast by the daisy protects the dew-drop from evaporation. It means that the acts of humanity nourish our soul and protect it from external influences. In this line, the sun is a metonym of human experience.
Analysis of To a Child
Small service is true service while it lasts;
‘To a Child’ by William Wordsworth begins with an epigram. The poet tells the little child about a profound thing. It is not clear that the kid has understood it or not. The poet’s advice is actually for the little kid inside us, our conscience. The poet tells us to help others by being true at heart. It does not matter whether the help is small or big. If you help others like you are helping yourself, the service you provide to a person will count. He cannot forget your act of compassion. It stays at his heart forever. In this way, the spirit of humanity survives.
Of friends, however humble, scorn not one:
In the second line of the poet William Wordsworth suggests the child how he should behave with her friends. It is a suggestion for us too. The poet, first of all, advises the kid to be humble with her friends. Being humble is not enough. The child has to be modest in her mind. That is why the poet forbids her not to scorn anyone. It affects the soul. Humility and compassion are what keeps the soul alive. Otherwise, the childish spirit in her heart will start to mature. She will lose touch with God. Wordsworth does not want that to happen with the child. As we all know, everything starts in the mind. After that it gets reflected in reality. For this reason, the poet guides us on how to work on the mind.
Lines 3 and 4
The daisy, by the shadow that it casts,
Protects the lingering dew-drop from the sun.
Wordsworth makes use of metaphors in the last two lines of the poem. Both the literal and symbolic meaning of these lines have significance in the poem. The literal meaning is only for the kid in the poem. The symbolic sense is for the mature minds who can understand the spiritual aspects clearly.
The poet suggests the child be like the flower daisy. In the poem, the poet says that it casts its shade to protect the dew-drop from the sun. The child should be like the flower and help those who are weaker than herself.
There is a reference of the soul in the word “dew-drop.” Here the poet suggests that the deeds of humanity and compassion serve the soul. It keeps the purity of the soul alive. When we show kindness to others, there is a feeling of satisfaction in our hearts. It brings a different kind of happiness to our world. We don’t jump up and celebrate when we help somebody. A sort of heavenly breeze just blows through our minds. It reaches the soul and makes our life worthwhile.
Biblical Reference in To a Child
William Wordsworth was a worshiper of nature and purity in children. He praised the pure souls at their early age. Most of his works celebrate that bliss in a child. In Christianity, it is believed that a child is a manifestation of God. When an infant first comes to this earth, she remains virtuous at heart. The bond of purity remains untainted until she matures. In ‘To a Child’ Wordsworth cherishes this purity and guides the child to nourish her soul. He teaches the child the nature of “true service.” In this way, the biblical reference assimilates in the poem.
Let us have a look at the poems which are in parallel to the subject matter and theme of ‘To a Child’ by William Wordsworth.
- Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth – Wordsworth’s Immortality Ode presents the sign of immortality and heavenly bliss in a child. In ‘To a Child’ there is a reference to this purity of soul, and the poet guides the child to keep the spirit alive.
- My Heart Leaps Up by William Wordsworth – In this short poem, the poet makes use of his popular theme of natural beauty. A child’s capability of seeing the simple yet magnificent beauty in nature is what the poet craves for. In ‘To A Child’ he urges the kid to protect this capability metaphorically.
- Children by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – In this poem of Longfellow celebrates the innocence and simplicity of children. Wordsworth, in his poem, advises them to nourish their childish qualities, which make them different from grown-ups.
- A Child’s Sleep by Carol Ann Duffy – Like Wordsworth cherishes the beauty in children, Duffy, in her poem, upholds the simple beauty of a sleeping child.
You can read about 10 of the Best 17th and 18th Century British Poets here.