Compare and contrast the two versions of “Nurse’s Song”, showing how Blake illustrates the concepts of Innocence and Experience
The Blakean concept of “Innocence” is focused on purity, vulnerability, trust and harmony – often illuminated through the use of children. For “Experience” the crux is on remorse, regrets and the general loss of innocence. In the two versions of “Nurse’s Song” children are used to bring out both the innocent and experienced side of the nurse.
In the “Innocence” version of the poem, a repeated word pattern is used.
It is reminiscent of children’s chants and nursery rhymes because of the buoyant, song-like rhythm. “Come, come leave off play”, “No, no let us play”, “Well, well go and play”. This emphasises the childlike, infantile tone of the poem bringing out the innocent, simplistic nature. It also shines a juvenile light on the nurse, which to a reader in an experienced state of mind, gives off a forced, unrealistic innocence.
The use of sound in the “Innocence” version of “Nurse’s Song” is very apparent. It relates to the sounds made by the children, heard by the nurse; “laughing is heard on the hill,” this paints a pleasant picture, an unmistakeably happy image for the reader. It puts the rest of the poem into an idyllic, dreamlike context, giving a slightly surreal edge to the verses that follow. The final line “And all the hills ecchoed”, could be seen as a use of pathetic fallacy in that the children are laughing and shouting, and the hills ‘echo’ them – everything in this idealistic world is content and perfect, a utopia of purity, trust and openness.
“The little ones leaped & shouted & laugh’d”, this list is presented in a puerile fashion, further illustrating the concept of innocence in the nurse herself. By using “&” instead of a comma, it makes the reader feel as if the nurse has a childlike perspective on the scene, as her narration uses basic, one-dimensional lexis giving an unsophisticated and uncomplicated view of the world.
The harmonious relationship between the children and the nurse makes her seem straightforward and pure, and also inexperienced in her trust in the children. When the children refuse her request to go home to bed, she simply allows them to carry on in their own way “Well, well, go & play till the light fades away” showing her faith in the reliability of the children and simultaneously giving her an air of naivety, and reinforcing her innocence in that she is clearly open to receiving the pleasures of life. It also shows how unworldly she is, how she is blissfully unaware of the dangers around and simply concerned that the children should be in bed when the day turns to night.
In the “Experience” version of “Nurse’s Song” the reader feels a distinctly bitter tone given off by the nurse. An underlying message of a bad childhood, or a disturbing youth is given off when she says “The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind, / My face turns green and pale”. To some this could imply a feeling of jealousy in the nurse, green being an indication of envy – showing the nurse envying the children’s innocence and happiness. However, I think it is simply a device to show how their purity and their inexperience are nauseating to the nurse; how it reminds her of her childhood, and how she has lost that youth and vulnerability and is sickened by her current self.
In the second stanza of the “Experience” version, the first two lines are the same, although they seem somewhat more ominous because of the context. “Then come home my children, the sun is gone down / And the dews of night arise;” Also there are no speech marks around these phrases, unlike the “Innocence” version. It means that it is not direct speech from the nurse to the children, but rather an insight into the thoughts of the nurse – disguised and dark – leaving the reader with a nervous energy given off by the eerie mannerisms of the nurse.
A contrast between the two poems is in the second line of the first stanza. In “Innocence” it says “and laughing is heard on the hill,” but in “Experience” it says “and whisp’rings are in the dale.” The obvious difference is between the “laughing” and the “whisp’rings”. Laughter is a sound of happiness and gaiety, but whispering has an air of secrecy, deceit and isolation. This is an obvious contrast in the levels of communication between the two states, the honest and open laughter in “Innocence” almost an antithesis to the guarded, furtive whispering.
Another difference between the two is that in “Innocence” the laughter is taking place “on the hill” – an exposed place, safe and high above everything, easily seen and obvious to all. But in “Experience” the whispering is taking place “in the dale.” This is a hidden place, dark and difficult to see for the nurse – secretive. This subtle difference changes the tone completely between the two poems.
“Your spring & your day are wasted in play, / And your winter and night in disguise.” These final two lines of the poem, I feel, are the most bitter and disparaging of all. Some may say that the seasons of “spring” and “winter” are metaphorical, for the “winter of your life” – the darker days, the older, more experienced times; the “spring” representing youth, purity and innocence. As though the nurse is saying that when you have the capacity to embrace the gift of “innocence”, your naivety and inexperience stop you from truly realising what you have and it is then “wasted in play”; frittered away in the menial enjoyment of life. But once that innocence is lost, you enter the winter of your life, “in disguise” – hiding from those that remind you of your innocence, and those that can see your experience.
However another interpretation could be that literally in the daytime, during the spring and winter and at night you are always wasting your time; so no matter what you do time is passing by and you are gradually moving from a state of innocence to experience. That time is squandered in useless, unhelpful ways. The nurse’s bitterness is expressed in her realisation of this desecration of such a precious thing. It seems premeditated and as though she has reminisced over her youthful times and understood her mistakes; as if she has discovered how she’s capitulated to the ideals of “experience” and is unable to return to her candid, childlike self.
I feel that overall, the message given by the “Experience” poem is one of bitterness, remorse and resentment. The darker tone of the poem gives it a deeper meaning – to embrace every second or to become a character like the nurse in this version: cheated in life and cynical about others. However, the playful, childlike “Innocence” version is far less evocative and conceives a simpler idea, to laugh and play “till the light fades away and the dew of night arise”.
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Nurse's Song by William Blake. (2017, Oct 16). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/nurses-song-by-william-blake-essay