Nurse's Song (I) - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism

The green - Blake's symbolic village green has three, inter-linked aspects:

  • The colour green is associated with growth, fertility and spring
  • Village greens were places of play and freedom. They represented the importance of play and, therefore, of imagination in human life.
  • Village greens were not owned by anyone. They were common land. They, therefore, represented another kind of freedom - freedom from the rule or demands of a landowner or authority figure. They were the opposite of ‘chartered' towns which were under the authority of its officials.

Using this image emphasises the freedom and play which is at the centre of this poem and suggests, too, the inner freedom of the nurse. She seems in harmony with all that is growing and playful.

NurseThe Nurse - The image of the nurse is used to represent the caring and nurturing capacity within human beings. This can be used to protect the freedom of what is carefree, innocent and vulnerable. When this is so, the nurse or care-giver delights in their charge and has no desire to repress or rule. But this capacity can also be distorted into a desire to control what is carefree and vulnerable.

Fading light - Unlike The Ecchoing Green, the darkness appears much earlier in Nurse's Song. The children focus only on making the most of the daylight. However, the nurse is aware of the threat that lurks in darkness (‘the dews of night arise' seems unhealthy) and the need to be responsible in terms of the day to come. That the children desire to play as the light fades could symbolise their developing maturity and fading innocence. The Nurse's acquiescence can be variously interpreted as:

  • A wise realisation that the children need to learn to cope in the dark
  • Permission to play as long as possible is a way of extending her charges' innocence given the inevitability of darkness / experience
  • Her continuing pastoral care
  • An abdication of responsibility.

Investigating imagery and symbolism

  • In what ways do the associations with green reinforce the emphasis on growth and freedom in the children's play and nurse's response?
  • How do you interpret the Nurse's response in the final stanza?
  • In the light of this, how ‘dark' do you feel your reading of the poem should be?


The nature of authority

A central theme in Nurse's Song is the nature of authority and leadership, related to the theme of parental care. This nurse is someone who is with, but not in charge of, her children. Her care does not repress or restrict them; she responds to their needs for freedom and enjoys their capacity for play.

Childhood innocence

A secondary theme is the nature of childhood innocence. There is a positive representation of unselfconscious delight in freedom and play, suggesting the life of the imagination. However, the gathering gloom threatens to curtail innocent activities.

Investigating themes

  • Compare the portrayal of authority here with the rule of The Shepherd.
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