Earth's Answer - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

The repeated use of the ‘d' sound accentuates the heavy, solemn tone – ‘head', ‘darkness', ‘dread', ‘drear', ‘fled', ‘cover'd', ‘despair' – of the opening stanza.

The preponderance of exclamations and rhetorical questions in the remaining stanzas moves them from solemnity into indignation, giving energy and momentum to the verse. This is accentuated by the plosive B alliteration in the final stanza and a breakdown in the regularity of the rhyme scheme.

In the Songs of Innocence, restricted vocabulary and repetition often highlighted the artlessness of the speaker. Here, repetition is much more artful. It is consciously rhetorical, suggesting a much more experienced speaker who is constructing a case against God. In stanza four, for example, note the use of alliteration in ‘buds and blossoms' and the patterning of the rhetorical questions, ‘Does the sower … plow?

Repetition of words like ‘father' of ‘men', ‘selfish', and ‘jealous[y]' emphasise the mood of accusation and emotional distance.

Investigating language and tone

  • Try reworking the rhetorical questions used here so that they are statements instead
    • Do they have the same impact?
      • What is different about the tone and mood?

Structure and versification

The five-line stanzas rhyme ABAAB. The monosyllabic endings to the majority of lines throughout the poem create a solemn tone. Lines 3 and 4 in each stanza read like half-lines, with two stresses per line. The need to pause between lines slows and emphasises them. This intensifies the impression of stern lament.

The rhyme scheme matches that of the Introduction, providing a reply in form as well as in content.

Investigating structure and versification

  • What effect does the absence of punctuation in the second stanza have?
  • What difference would you find if you made lines 3 and 4 into one line?
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