How would one summarize and analyze the poem "Nicholas Nye" by Walter de la Mare?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Walter de la Mare's poem "Nicholas Nye" is set in a meadow with an orchard. The speaker of the poem spends all of his days, from dawn until dusk, in the meadow where an old donkey, which the speaker calls Nicholas Nye, lives.  

We can tell the poem is set in a meadow beginning at dawn due to the opening three lines of the second stanza describing the donkey:

Alone with his shadow he'd drowse in the meadow,
Lazily swinging his tail,
At break of day he used to bray--.

If the speaker was not there with the donkey in the meadow at sunrise, the speaker would not know that the donkey was braying at sunrise. In addition, we know the speaker does not leave the meadow until sundown due to the first four lines of the final stanza:

But dusk would come in the apple boughs,
And home I'd trudge to mine.

The central theme of the poem concerns empathizing with feelings of loneliness in one's old age. In the poem, the speaker describes the donkey as being "more than a score of donkey's years." A score is 20 years, which is rather old for a donkey. While we don't know the speaker's age, we know that he feels a deep connection with the donkey and has plenty of time on his hands to loaf around the meadow all day long. The connection between the speaker and donkey is revealed when the speaker describes the donkey as seeming to smile at him and says that "[s]omething much better than words" passed between them. Due to this connection and the manner in which the speaker spends his time, we can assume the speaker is also in his old age and feels a sense of comradeship with the old donkey because the donkey is just as old and lonely as he is. Due to their mutual old age and loneliness, both the donkey and speaker are able to feel empathy for each other, a feeling the theme of the poem promotes.

rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Nicholas Nye" is a poem about an old donkey named Nicholas Nye. The poem describes a typical day for Nicholas Nye, as the poet observes him in his pasture, and suggests there is a connection between the donkey and the poet, a certain commonality of feeling or experience. In this sense, you can think of the poem as not being about a donkey so much as it is a meditation on growing old.

Nicholas Nye is “lean and gray, Lame of leg and old” and he seems to say “Poor Nicholas Nye!” There does seem to be an empathic connection between poet and donkey; the donkey at times seems to “smile” at the poet:

And over the grass would seem to pass

'Neath the deep dark blue of the sky,

Something much better than words between me

And Nicholas Nye.

This “something much better than words" can be understood as either an unspoken understanding of how life is for old donkeys (and old poets) or as a reference to poetry, or poetic inspiration, itself.

The final stanza, in which donkey and poet go to their rest at the end of the day, is a bit ambiguous in tone:

And there, in the moonlight, dark with dew,
Asking not wherefore nor why,
Would brood like a ghost, and as still as a post,
Old Nicholas Nye.

The donkey’s mute “brooding” through the night is in part an expression of his permanence: Nicholas Nye will always be there. We can think of the donkey as a source of poetic inspiration, a symbol of silent suffering, or representative of the inevitability of old age; in any case, his “brooding like a ghost” suggests there is something unknowable or inexpressible about the donkey, and, by extension, life.

beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“Nicholas Nye” by Walter de la Mare is a six-stanza poem that describes a day in the life of an old donkey named Nicholas Nye and the narrator. The narrator explains the day from the first person point of view. He arrives at a stonewall in an orchard where he likes to relax on a warm day. His only companion is an old grey donkey who eats thistles and seems to feel sorry for himself. In spite of this, the donkey has spme light left in his eyes and bit of resourcefulness left in him. As the two relax in the sun, there seems to be a quiet comradery between them. The donkey asks nothing of him. When evening comes, the narrator walks to his home while Nicholas Nye stands in the field flooded with moonlight until it is time for him to bray in a new day.