In this poem, Blake parodies his earlier “Nurse’s Song” from Songs of Innocence. The nurse hears the whispering of her charges in the dell, indicating some secretive activity among the youths. Upon hearing their voices, the nurse’s face “turns green and pale,” an image associated with the unfulfilled spinster in Blake’s day. That she reflects upon missed pleasures suggests that the secretive children are in fact adolescents becoming aware of their own sexuality, a theme in keeping with the overall tone of Songs of Experience.
The nurse feels that she wasted her youth and calls the children home, warning them that their daylight and their youthful lives are wasted in play while their winter and night, their adulthood and old age, will be wasted “in disguise.” Since the sun has already set when the nurse calls them in, it is reasonable to suppose that the youths have already become sexually active and will now reap the consequences envisioned by the nurse: a sense of loss and loneliness that cannot be assuaged.
The poem's rhyme scheme, ABCB DEFE, deviates slightly from the common ABAB CDCD scheme, which suggests discontent on the part of the nurse, whose words disrupt the more simplistic rhymes of childhood. Structurally, this poem follows "The Chimney Sweeper" in its abbreviation of the Innocence counterpart. The experienced Nurse's song is half as long, with two stanzas rather than four. The first lines echo the "Nurse's Song" from Songs of Innocence, but there the similarities end. This Nurse is more cynical and seems almost delighted in the wasted day and the impending end of innocence and childhood that accompanies it.
Nurse's Song (E) - Synopsis and commentary
Synopsis of 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