When the voice of children are heard on the green
And whisperings are in the dale,
The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind,
My face turns green and pale.
Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down
And the dews of night arise;
Your spring and your day are wasted in play
And your winter and night in disguise.
The nurse of ‘Nurse’s Song’ in Songs of Experience is a contrast to the nurse of ‘Nurse’s Songs’ in Songs of Innocence. This small poem provides the thought or feelings of the experienced nurse and no conversation takes place between the children and the nurse. The various reactions of the nurse are depicted in ‘Nurse’s Song’ wherein she observes the children bring to her a nostalgic recollection of her own childhood when she too used to frolic. But the memory causes her face to turn discoloured and pale. She feels sorry for the lost days of infantine enthusiasm, and she feels jealous of the children. And then her mood changes to that of a controlling authority. She asks the children to turn back home and stop playing as the sun has set and the night is damp with dew. The nurse comments that the youthful vigour of children is wasted in playing and their old age is spent in pretence.
A Comparison between the Two Nurses :
The ‘Nurse’s Song’ in the Songs of Experience is an aside. In Songs of Innocence, the nurse keeps herself in close terms with nature and children and she feels happy and relaxed in her heart. There the nurse allows the children to play more when they protest against her command to go and sleep.
Though the two poems have an apparent resemblance in terms of their title and first lines, they form different entities. The incongruity lies not merely in the reactions of the nurses but also in the choice of words. Both these nurses have the same origin and both have presumably passed through the same region of experience. But each of them expresses different impulses on the same occasions. Blake’s purpose was none other than to reflect manifestations of the same soul or perception related in different moods.
Another important feature of the poem lies in the poet’s choice of particular words to affect the mood of the experience. The voices of children’ heard in Songs of Innocence is a subdued ‘whispering’ in the poem here. The nurse of Song of Experience finds the children’s playing a waste of time. The sun going down in the fifth line brings no promise of rising again. The nurse suspects secrecy and indecency in the activities going on in the field and attaches some colour of immorality to the sports. The dewy night seems to express a devitalizing and degenerate element. All the revivifying elaments such as sunny day, bright luminant sky and the energetic shouts of children are absent here. In the Songs of Innocence the children’s shout echo and the valleys and hills are alive. But in Songs of Experience the children are wrapped up in silence.
In the Songs of Innocence, the nurse derives pleasure and tranquillity from the scene of the playing innocent children. But the nurse nurse in Songs of Experience is preoccupied with herself, and her feeling and what she does are simply conveyed in a monologue. She keeps a constant watch over the children and her instincts reflect her disposition. From her angle of view, life is aimless, a useless waste of time in childhood and in old age, a shame. It has no purpose as she says:
“Your spring and your day are wasted in play,
And your winter and night in disguise.”
She sets all her views in a depressing background such as winter, night, dewy darkness and so on. She looks back with frustration on her childhood, and instead of feeling merry, she grows pale. Her ‘spring and day’ seem to express the agony of growing up to a regretful maturity. She is hostile and hence insensitive to innocence. She takes the children back home, leaving them unable to protest, to play and to enjoy.
The famous critic C.M. Bowra says: “When experience destroys the state of childlike innocence, it puts many destructive forces in its place. To show the extent of this destruction Blake places in the Songs of Experience certain poems which give poignant contrast to poems which appear in the Songs of Innocence. For instance, in the first ‘Nurse’s Song,’ he tells how children play and are allowed to go on playing until the light fades and it is time to go to bed. In this Blake symbolises the carefree play of the imagination when it is not spoiled by senseless restrictions. But in the second ‘Nurse’s Song,’ we hear the other side of the matter when experience has set to work. “As we see in the Nurse’s Song in Songs of Experience the voice that speaks is not of loving care but of sour age, envious of a happiness which it can no longer share and eager to point out the menaces and the perils of the dark. It views play as a squandering away of time and implies that man’s life “is a sham passed in darkness and cold.”