In the poem, “The Echoing Green” by William Blake, there is a sense of peace and an ultimate rest. The first stanza of the poem talks about the sun rising and how everything is alive on the “echoing green,” there are birds singing. The second stanza of the poem continues this youthful theme as there are old people talking about their childhoods “on the echoing green.” The last stanza of the poem is the one that ultimately breaks the cycle. While the first two stanzas end with “on the echoing green,” this one ends with “on the darkening green,” (30). This subtle difference in the ending of the stanza shows how this stanza becomes a turning point. The first line is “Till the little ones weary” (21). Starting the stanza with this, there is already this connotation of the day ending and it contrasts the first line “the sun does arise,” as does the “darkening green.” Not only this, the sun descends in the third stanza, showing that their day comes to an end. “Round the laps of their mothers, / Many sisters and brothers, / Like birds in their nest, / Are ready for rest;” (25-28). These few lines in the third stanza create a peaceful scene, one of bedtime and the resting of children. For most kids, their mother’s lap is where they find comfort, where they feel safe. Blake compares the children to birds; this is intriguing as previously mentioned he talks about the birds singing. It is though the playful children are like birds in the way that their play provides joy for others much like the birds singing provides joy for those listening. Like birds, the children cannot play forever, they must rest at some point and be in their safe space. By including the word “ready” while talking about rest, it seems that Blake is conveying that the children cannot play anymore, they are exhausted. Slowly, the children will turn into the “old folk” in the second stanza, those who reminisce on their past joys that they no longer have. As the children get more and more tired, their youth fades.
The poem seems to be about finding rest and joy in nature. However, the old folk in the poem do not seem to find their joy, instead they just look fondly at the past and remember when they were once young. “The Echoing Green” becomes much sadder when focusing more on the second stanza in which they appear. “’Such, such were the joys. / When we all girls & boys, / In our youth-time were seen, / On the echoing green.’” (17-20). The old folk are pitied in a light-hearted way as they talk about the joys in past tense, they no longer enjoy the echoing green as they once did. The rhyme here of the old folk talking gives them a wistful voice and because the rhyme does not break, it shows how they are still connected to this echoing green although they are old. However, they do not feel the joy much like the speaker in “To The South Downs,” a poem by Charlotte Smith. The speaker in her poem tries to find the peace that she had as a child by returning to nature but it is no longer there.
The poem also talks about the cycle of human life in the metaphor of the sun rising and setting as mentioned before. Youth does not last forever and as the sun sets, the children begin to rest and ultimately turn into the old folk. When people age, their joy fades as shown in this poem, they are no longer the singing birds, instead, they are the old folk sitting on the green, wishing they had the joy that the children have.
One thought on “The Echoing Greens and Childhood Joys”
I think you make some great points in your blog post. I just want to point out that the themes of nature and age that are seen in other romantic poems are also very present here. In Blake’s poem, both humans and the passage of time are connected to nature. Children are compared to birds, providing one connection, and the sun rising and setting symbolizes the passing of time, providing another. I find that many romantics expressed wistfulness in regards to getting older and having many memories to look back on, and it’s often closely tied to nature. In these memories, the past is often romanticized, which explains why romantics are the ones doing it.
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