the cyclical nature of life and death

“The Echoing Green” by William Blake deals mainly with themes of life and death, and the inevitable passing of time. The poem depicts the blissful play of young children on the “echoing green,” as well as the memories of the old people watching as they recall their days of play. Then, the sun sets, and the description of the green as “echoing” changes to the “darkening green,” indicating the inevitability of death, but not exactly the ending of life – the repetition used in the poem points to a cyclical way of reading that imitates the cyclical nature of life and death. This repeating of the title phrase, as well as the very simple yet effective rhyme scheme, lets the reader know that there is more to the poem than just the juxtaposition of the old and new generation. Furthermore, the choice to describe the “green” as “echoing” reinforces the imagery of life and memories indefinitely cycling through the same place, never ending.  

The poem uses one day, one cycle of the sun moving across the sky, to describe a lifetime. The end of the play on the field is inevitable, yes, but Blake sees death as a natural part of life, one that is as demanding as sleep and as peaceful as night. In the last stanza of “The Echoing Green,” he states, “The sun does descend, And our sports have an end. Round the laps of their mother/Many sisters and brothers, Like birds in their nest, Are ready for rest/And sport no more seen/on the darkening green.” The “darkening” of the green is a peaceful deviation from the other endings of the stanzas, the word “seen” is still rhymed with “green,” it’s just this one word that has been changed. The ending is family focused as well, and the lines about reuniting with mothers could be referencing seeing loved ones who have already passed on when you yourself also do so. The imagery of birds in a nest has comforting connotations as well, suggesting that death is not seen as a futile battle against a great enemy, but rather simply as a phase of life, as illustrated by the descriptions of different generations having similar experiences.

2 thoughts on “the cyclical nature of life and death”

  1. I agree that this poem contemplates death but does not conclude on a grim note. One very interesting thing is that the poem is told from the perspective of a child instead of an elder. Though the child is very aware and sensitive for their age, they notice their surroundings, the talking among the elders, anticipate the setting of the sun, they are not likely to make the connection between the ending of a day and the ending of life as the elders and readers do. I would imagine if the poem was told by an elder, or if it appears in Songs of Experience, its tone would be a lot more contemplative and melancholy.

    1. Your observation about the fact that this is in Innocence rather than Experience made me want to check out Experience again to see if this had a clear counterpart. I found that there are some notable similarities with “The Garden of Love,” which features that same “seen”/“green” rhyme: “I went to the Garden of Love,/And saw what I never had seen;/A Chapel was built in the midst,/Where I used to play on the green” (Blake 1-4). You’ll note that your prediction about the speaker being an elder in Experience is exactly right!

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