The Voice of the Ancient Bard - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

The tone is authoritative, echoing the typical voice of prophecy that Blake's contemporaries were familiar with from the Bible. This is heightened by the use of rhetorical features:

  • The bard is making a public call to this ‘youth of delight'
  • He issues instructions – ‘come', ‘see'
  • He uses alliteration to highlight his points – ‘Doubt ... Dark disputes'
  • Lament is emphasised by exclamation – ‘How many have fallen there!'

Alluding to Jesus in the closing line (Matthew 15:12-14) lends the voice of the bard an extra tone of authority and emphasises the fate of those who follow blind leaders.

To convey the difficulty inherent in the ways of folly:

  • Hard T and plosive P consonants are repeated in l.7 (‘Tangled roots perplex')
  • L.9 is clogged and difficult to articulate with ST, T, B and D sounds
  • The monosyllables of the next line accumulate differing vowel sounds, combined with the repeated consonant T followed by the plosive B and hard C.

Investigating language and tone

  • Do you find the voice of the bard persuasive here?

Structure and versification

The rhyme scheme ABBCCDDEFEF suggests a predictability which is undercut by the final three lines, whose extra syllables cause the rhythm to stumble. Until these last three lines, the closing rhymes are open vowel sounds: ‘born' / ‘morn', ‘maze' / ‘ways'. The caesura in l. 1and 4, and repeated structure between l.4 and 5 give the lines a spaciousness and balance.

The disturbing vision of the Bard is suggested by sudden changes in the underlying metre. It shifts from iambic in the first three lines (with an initial inverted foot in l.1 and 3) to trochaic for the next two rhyming couplets, which increases the emphatic tone of the Bard. This is then disrupted by the exclamation of l.8, followed by a shift to anapaestic, then iambic, then anapaestic tetrameter again. The overall effect is unsettling.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Why do you think Blake patterned the poem in this way?
    • Is it important for the form of a poem to reflect its meaning?
    • How successful do you think the form is here?
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