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Songs of Innocence and of Experience

by William Blake

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Compare the two nurses in William Blake's "The Nurse's Song" in Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.

Quick answer:

The nurse in Songs of Innocence is compassionate and serene, sharing in the joy of the children she oversees. By contrast, the nurse inĀ Songs of Experience is bitter and envious of children's youth and innocence.

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William Blake wrote two poems entitled "The Nurse's Song." The first was published in his 1789 collection of poetry entitled Songs of Innocence, and the second was published in his 1794 collection Songs of Experience. In each poem, the narrator is the eponymous nurse.

In the 1789 poem, the nurse is presented as loving, joyful and contented. For example, she says that her heart is "at rest" when she hears the children laughing, suggesting that she derives both contentment and joy from the knowledge that the children are happy. The nurse also succumbs to the pleas of the children and lets them play a little longer, "till the light fades away." This suggests that she loves them too much to deny them even one moment of happiness.

In the 1794 poem, the nurse is presented as envious and cynical. When she hears the children playing, she does not react with joy but with envy. When she hears the children play, she is reminded of her own youth, and her "face turns green and pale" with envy. The implication here is that the nurse is envious because the children have what she once had and has since lost. The children have youth, innocence, and joy. She no longer has any of these qualities, and she seems to resent that the children do. The nurse in this second poem also tells the children that their youth is wasted on them, and that their youth, symbolized by the "spring," is merely the precursor to their old age, symbolized by "winter." The nurse in this second poem is made resentful and bitter by her envy.

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