When the voices of children are heard on the green
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast
And every thing else is still
Then come home my children, the sun is gone down
And the dews of night arise
Come come leave off play, and let us away
Till the morning appears in the skies
No no let us play, for it is yet day
And we cannot go to sleep
Besides in the sky, the little birds fly
And the hills are all cover’d with sheep
Well well go & play till the light fades away
And then go home to bed
The little ones leaped & shouted & laugh’d
And all the hills ecchoed
The scene of the poem features a group of children playing outside in the hills, while their nurse listens to them in contentment. As twilight begins to fall, she gently urges them to “leave off play” and retire to the house for the night. They ask to play on till bedtime, for as long as the light lasts. The nurse yields to their pleas, and the children shout and laugh with joy while the hills echo their gladness.
The poem has four quatrains, rhymed ABCB and containing an internal rhyme in the third line of each verse.
This is a poem of affinities and correspondences. There is no suggestion of alienation, either between children and adults or between man and nature, and even the dark certainty of nightfall is tempered by the promise of resuming play in the morning. The theme of the poem is the children’s innocent and simple joy. Their happiness persists unabashed and uninhibited, and without shame the children plead for permission to continue in it. The sounds and games of the children harmonize with a busy world of sheep and birds. They think of themselves as part of nature, and cannot bear the thought of abandoning their play while birds and sheep still frolic in the sky and on the hills, for the children share the innocence and unselfconscious spontaneity of these natural creatures. They also approach the world with a cheerful optimism, focusing not on the impending nightfall but on the last drops of daylight that surely can be eked out of the evening.
A similar innocence characterizes the pleasure the adult nurse takes in watching her charges play. Their happiness inspires in her a feeling of peace, and their desire to prolong their own delight is one she readily indulges. She is a kind of angelic, guardian presence who, while standing apart from the children, supports rather than overshadows their innocence. As an adult, she is identified with “everything else” in nature; but while her inner repose does contrast with the children’s exuberant delight, the difference does not constitute an antagonism. Rather, her tranquility resonates with the evening’s natural stillness, and both seem to envelop the carefree children in a tender protection.
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