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

Language and tone

Note the contrast between the two meanings of ‘green' in the first stanza:

  • In line 1, it denotes the freshness and fertility of the land and the children. It represents freedom and growth
  • In line 4, it refers to jealousy, which leads to stagnation and constraint.

This also makes the use of ‘fresh' in line 3 ambiguous and ironic. The memories come ‘fresh' in so far as they come repeatedly, but these are not fresh and full of life. They are often-visited and devoid of life.

‘Whisp'rings' is also an evocative term:

  • Are these the whisperings of children full of fun, who like to do things in secret? That might create the Nurse's jealousy because they have a life apart from hers
  • Or are the whisperings those of older children engaged in illicit activities
  • Or even those of people who would do them harm?

The literal and moral ‘high ground' of Nurse's Song (I) (where ‘laughing is heard on the hill') is exchanged for shady goings on in the dale/valley. Certainly ‘the dale' suggests a place at a greater distance from the Nurse, too far away for immediate oversight, or to exert control.

Investigating language and tone

  • Do you need to know all the connotations of ‘the green' to appreciate the contrast between this use of the term and its use to describe the nurse's face?

Structure and versification

The anapaestic metre of lines 1, 5, and 8 produces a jauntiness that is undercut by the content and tone of the poem, particularly by the heavy iambs of line 4. The full weight of the nurse's denial of life is underlined by the internal rhyme in the third line of stanza two, which contrasts the two sentiments. The overall effect is to give the statement the weight of an undeniable maxim, which the repeated ‘and's reinforce.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Do you think jauntiness is appropriate to the content of this poem?
  • Give some reasons for your decision.
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.