Infant Sorrow - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

The language of the first stanza contrasts with that of the second. The first stanza emphasises the littleness and vulnerability of the baby - ‘helpless', ‘naked', ‘piping' - and the threatening nature of the world into which it is born – ‘dangerous'. The latter is emphasised by the negative reactions of the parents – ‘groan'd', ‘wept'. The notion of a ‘fiend in a cloud' seems incongruous at this point. However, the active verb ‘I leapt', rather than the usual passive form of ‘I was born', indicates that a fully formed and independent individual has arrived.

The second stanza conveys the baby's desire to be free and to fight constraint. This is surprising, considering the previous picture of vulnerability. Its response to its situation is forceful rather than submissive.

However, our expectations are once more contradicted. Rather than continue fighting, the baby settles into resentment by sulking, as though nurturing plans for future rebellion. This seems the antithesis of the nurture it should be receiving from its mother. It gives substance to the idea of a ‘fiend in a cloud'.

The infant's aggressive tone is enhanced by the emphatic alliteration of ‘Struggling' and ‘Striving', whilst the frequent sibilance in the second stanza suggests the association of snake / evil / fiend.

Investigating language and tone

  • Think about your response to the baby at the end of the first stanza
    • What are your expectations?
    • What is the effect of their being contradicted by the second stanza?
      • What is your final response to the baby?

Structure and versification

The regularity of the rhyming couplets is given liveliness by the use of present participles in the second couplet of the first stanza and the opening couplet of stanza two – ‘ piping. ….Struggling.. Striving'. The inversion of the normal word order, in the second line of stanza one and the third in stanza two, emphasises the dangerous nature of the world and the feelings of the baby.

In stanza two the finite verb (‘thought') is delayed until the third line. Thus we see the active struggling of the baby before its collapse in sulking. In this way the verse imitates the order of the actions but also emphasises the unexpected conclusion.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Look at the first two lines of stanza two
    • How do you expect the baby to behave in the next line?
    • How does this compare with what you discover in the closing line?
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