Nurse's Song (I) - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

The nurse's language hardly differs from the children's in grammar and vocabulary. This suggests her inner sympathy with them. Although she is a nurse, her language does not convey authority but relationship – ‘my children' ‘let us away'. She is a watchful figure who is with, rather than above, her charges.

The large number of words involving liquid ‘l' sounds – laughing, little, leave, light etc – create a soft and gentle voice.

Investigating language and tone

  • Try replacing the nurse's words to the children by those which suggest her authority over them
    • What difference in tone and mood do you find?

Structure and versification

The poem has four quatrains, rhymed ABCB. The first two stanzas contain an internal rhyme in the third line which adds to the calm rhythmic quality of the song, which is enhanced by the rolling anapaestic metre. The third stanza, depicting the children's voice, has internal rhymes in both first and third lines, perhaps conveying the repetitive nature typical of pleading. They copy the adult's syntax but:

  • Resist the authoritative ‘Come, come' with ‘No, no'
  • Exchange ‘leave' (stop) for ‘let' (allow)
  • Turn ‘away' into ‘play'.

In the fourth stanza, the internal rhyme is in the first line, as if the Nurse now echoes the children, conveying the symbiotic relationship between them. In the third stanza, the harsh spondee and C consonants of ‘Come, come', and the heavy sounding ‘leave off' conveyed anxiety. But at the start of stanza four the pattern is softened into the more relaxed:

‘Well, well, go & ..'

the ampersand suggesting ease and speed. There is a firmer authority in the three iambic feet of the second line however. The only shadow is conveyed by the abrupt last line, which ‘wrong foots' the reader by missing the final stress (even if the last word is pronounced ‘ech-o-ed'). Does darkness encroach more rapidly than anticipated?

Investigating structure and versification

  • How effective do you find the pattern of echoes in suggesting the closeness between the children and the nurse?
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