The echoing green

Table of Contents

The images in this poem are both pastoral and idyllic. The poet makes intensive use of sounds in the first stanza to present the happy innocence of childhood. The sunrise is symbolic of youth and immaturity and the ‘merry bells’ set the tone for the birds, which are the sky-lark and thrush, both noted for the beauty and cheerfulness of their songs. The semantic field of stanza 1 is shown in phrases such as ‘make happy’, ‘merry bells’, ‘welcome’, ‘chearful sound’, ‘our sports’, all of which suggest the carefree days of youth when there was nothing to do but play. The phrase ‘the echoing green’ implies that Nature itself is implicated in the joyful scene and reflects the happiness of the people in it.The second stanza depicts the ‘old folk’ sitting under the protective shade of the oak tree. They too are shown as innocent because they remember the guiltless days of their own childhood when they would play on the green. Their laughter shows that they are involved with the happy children and are pleased for them. One person, ‘Old John’ is singled out as he ‘laughs away care’, showing that he has attained wisdom and has been able to put aside the cares and worries of experience.In the final stanza, the children are shown to be ‘weary’ [a word reminiscent of experience] and are unable to be merry any more, implying that the games of childhood are coming to an end – along with its innocence, perhaps? With the sunset, the coming of darkness is prophetic of the onset of adolescence. The ‘sports have an end’ and the children are compared to ‘birds in their nest’, safe for the moment but soon to fly into the world of experience. The image of ‘the darkening green’ with which the poem ends is symbolic of the necessary move into the world of adulthood and experience which Wordsworth memorably described in Intimations of Immortality as‘shades of the prison house begin to close around the growing boy’.The children, here beginning the dangerous journey into a world of oppression and false ideas, need guidance from someone like Old John, who has come through experience to wisdom and knows the pitfalls of the path.The rhythm of the poem is a spritely movement which is very like a hobby horse and suggests nursery rhymes such as ‘Ride a cock horse’ or ‘The North Wind doth blow’. It thus reflects very well the games and sports of the children as they play out of doors. It also carries them forward perhaps all too quickly towards the ‘darkening green’ at the end of the poem – childhood is a short time compared with adulthood. This impetus is maintained by the rhyming couplets and the simple words, most of which have one or two syllables, except for ‘echoing’ and ‘darkening’ – the words that describe the green where they play.In the pictures, Blake shows the oak as the tree of life, protecting adults and children alike; he also shows ‘Old John’ as the wise guide leading the children, although some have opted for the vine which has the entwined trunks of earthly love. A boy is handing a bunch of grapes down to a girl – perhaps symbolising how adolescence leads to the end of innocence. Those who have experience but not wisdom cannot lead others safely.Like the Introduction, Blake is showing that the state of innocence, depicted as a kind of earthly paradise, cannot last – and nor should it, since it is dangerously naïve when it is set in a country where repressive laws and exploitation are the norm for poorer people