A Child in Nature

The poem “To the South Downs,” by Charlotte Smith, is a very romantic poem filled with nature, music, and intense emotions. Lines three and four of the poem speak to a personal connection with nature. “I wove your bluebells into garlands wild, / And woke your echoes with my artless song.” (3-4). In these lines, there is the use of your and I. The speaker personally addresses what seems to be the “South Downs.” This is important because it shows that the narrator of the poem is not speaking to the reader, instead they are speaking to these hills. The reader is an overseer of this connection of the narrator and this place of nature. It can be interpreted that the reader is supposed to be there, it is not an accident. This may be because the narrator wants to show their connection and how most people were once connected. This prods the question of how people are truly in tune with nature, and it brings about ideas of childhood and the wonders of it in the next few lines.

The first words of Smith’s poem are “Ah, hills beloved!” (1). This is also present in the beginning of line four. It seems that the narrator is calling out to these hills to hear their plea which is that they should give them a restored sense of peace that they lost after growing up. By using words like “soothe,” “restore,” “throb no more,” the hills seem to be the narrator’s last place of hope, they want to be saved and healed by these homelands that they once sung to. This plea matters because it shows a sense of childhood hope coming back into their life. When people grow old, their imagination begins to fade and the tree that they once hugged, the plants they once sung to, and the forts they built in the woods become a thing of the past. When humans grow older, there is less of a sense of connection to nature. The narrator is clearly showing this and being the representation for this loss. By doing so, the narrator sets an example and reminds people of the nature that once brought them peace that they can no longer return to for reasons unknown.

Unfortunately, the end of the poem is very depressing and ends on a note of death. Instead of repeating the first line, the narrator instead says “Ah, no! – when all, e’en Hope’s last ray, is gone,” (13). This line breaks after the ah very much like the ones before it and the change wording make it stand out. By creating this difference, the narrator seems to reach a conclusion in their ideas of their relationship with nature. In the last two lines, there is also no use of I and you which provide the idea that the narrator is no longer talking to nature but instead perhaps talking to themself. This is different because the narrator seems to abandon the idea of going back to this “happy child” and singing their “artless song” anymore. Instead, they state that “There’s no oblivion – but in Death alone.” (14). Overall, this ending connects to the narrator’s ideas of wanting to live in ignorant bliss with her beloved hills and going back to her childhood ways. However, she concludes that Death is oblivion. This speaks to readers as it shows how childhood obliviousness cannot always be restored. However, people should search to reconnect with the nature around them and search for their own personal peace.

5 thoughts on “A Child in Nature”

  1. I found your analysis of this poem interesting as it describes a departure from a connection with nature in aging, in contrast to aligning instead which can be seen in Wordsworth’s “Old Man Traveling”. Rather than youth being envious of an elder’s unconsciousness connection to nature, “To the South Downs” is more intrapersonal, illuminating a jealousy for the speaker’s own past self and her relationship to the setting. I’ve been finding this sort of envy of childhood’s existence in nature more commonly throughout the poems we’ve read, which suggests that the dynamic in “Old Man Traveling” is unique for the period.

  2. Your analysis on this poem is very clever and I really liked how you linked nature and childhood. Something that might even add to your analysis would be to look at how the narrator views herself against nature. The narrator describes their song as “artless” compared to the echoes of the winds. Moreover these echoes “wake” the winds. Perhaps in a larger paper you’d be able to answer the question of this narrator’s perception of their art. Does the narrator, like Burns, find that nature is the source of all knowledge and art? Good work!!

  3. Frog Turtle, I liked how you discussed how the narrator had hoped that the hills and nature around would help “restore” and “soothe” a sense of peace. Going over your analysis of the poem I was reminded of Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”. Looking back I noticed how both poems discuss this idea of nature having some sort of soothing power. In the case of “Tintern Abbey” the narrator claims that in more troubling time they thought of the landscape, explaining that it brought “With tranquil restoration – feelings too / Of unremembered pleasures,” (265).

  4. Frog Turtle, I found your analysis to be very interesting. Most especially, I enjoyed reading about your interpretation of the relationship between the speaker and the South Downs. I think you might be able to take your claim one step further by suggesting that the speaker implicitly attributes maternal qualities to the hills, such as the fact that the hills allowed the child to “weave [their] bluebells into wild garlands” and “[wake to the] echoes [of the child’s] artless song” (l. 3-4). In this poem, the idea of Mother Nature is truly brought to life by the speaker’s relationship with the hills.

  5. I love this. post so much! I am a little biased because my Final paper is going to about this same topic . When you mentioned the part about the reader no longer talking to nature but talking to their “happy child” self, it reminded me of how Romantic poetry tends to emphasize the importance of preserving childhood and innocence. The fact that the speaker talking to nature is representative of the speaker talking to themself makes me wonder perhaps, if maybe childhood is a metaphor for nature as much as nature is a metaphor for childhood.

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