Nurse's Song (E) - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of Nurse's Song (E)

Nurse's Song (E)

The nurse is considering her reaction to hearing the children playing on the green and their whispers in the valley – it is as though the children have secret sources of fun. These make her recall her own childhood. Instead of making her feel warm and indulgent to the children, it rouses her jealousy. So she calls the children in from play. They are wasting their time, both now in their youth by playing and in their old age by masking their true nature and feelings.

This is a companion poem to the Nurse's Song (I). It looks at another aspect of the repressive use of parental (or quasi-parental) authority. The Nurse's reaction provides a human example of the ‘love' that is represented by the pebble in The Clod and the Pebble.


The apparent joy and innocence of the first three lines is undercut by the reversal of expectation in the fourth. It becomes clear that these are the reflections of a ‘sick' mind rather than a benevolent one. This pattern is repeated in the second stanza, where the first two lines (featured in Nurse's Song (I)) are exposed by the second two.

In the same way, what is presented as the nurse's love and care for the children – calling them home to rest and away from the dangers of getting chilled by the dew – is revealed as jealousy and cruelty. The nurse loves only herself. Because her youthful pleasures are past, she wishes to deny the children theirs. She binds them to herself in possessiveness. Further, she wishes on them the same dried-up old age as her own, where emotions like jealousy must be made to appear as good. She wants the children to perpetuate her life-denying behaviour and response.

Unlike the companion poem in the Songs of Innocence, this poem takes place entirely in the nurse's mind. The response isn't to an actual event, but is a continual reaction – ‘when[ever]' she hears children ‘then' her response is to call them home. This suggests the Nurse's self-created isolation. She does not respond to real children but to what they evoke in her own mind.

Investigating Nurse's Song

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