A Dream - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

Blake employs some archaic words – ‘emmet' for ant, ‘wight' for person, ‘hie' for go - which convey a fable-like setting of the poem. The idea of talking ants, glow-worms and beetles would be common in nursery rhymes and children's stories, indicating that the poem's speaker is a child. The description of the emmet piles up the adjectives to suggest the overwhelming troubles of this little creature.

The two stanzas composed of speech – the third and the final – contrast in diction and tone:

  • The third emphasises sadness – ‘cry', ‘sigh', ‘weep'. The exclamation and questions give urgency to the rhythm and the tone
  • The final stanza has a softer, quieter rhythm and tone. Rather than fevered imaginings, it conveys calm guidance. Note
    • the liquid, lingering effect of the repeated L in ‘light', ‘while', ‘follow', ‘beetle', ‘little'
    • the soft alliteration of ‘hie thee home'.

The resolution of the emmet's plight is reflected by the diction here.

In the fourth stanza, the alliterative effect of ‘What wailing wight … watchman' emphasises the dramatic effect of the glow-worm's words in this little scene and prepares for its resolution in the final stanza.

Investigating language and tone

  • Look at the alliterative words and replace them with similar non-alliterative terms
    • How does this affect the tone and mood?

Structure and versification

The trochaic metre and rhyming couplets give the poem a nursery-rhyme like quality suited to its subject-matter. The spondee of ‘heart-broke' emphasises the ant's depth of despair, whilst the additional syllable of ‘wanderer' make the falling trochaic metre gentler

Investigating structure and versification

  • Find a nursery rhyme with the same structure and see how it compares with this poem.
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