In order to grasp their meanings, the two versions of the “Nurse’s Song” in both William Blake’s the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience are to be read not through what they show literally, nor even what they appear to mean (the obvious “red herring” interpretation), but rather what they hide. At their joined ideological base, both works reveal a stunning critique of the bourgeois and feudal culture. Ultimately Blake resists the dominant ideology, first by opposing it, albeit unintentionally, then by strongly affirming it in a satirical manner. All of this is accomplished through the actions and the shifts in perspective of the unnamed nurse character, which in the end reveal the true purpose of the two works.
Much like the two volumes in which they are contained, the two “Nurse’s Songs” seem at first to be examinations of human development and mental stages of life. The poem features children at play in the hills while their elder nurse watches over them. Eventually she bids them to come back inside when the daylight begins to die. The youths, of course, then plead for the right to stay out for as long as the smallest amount of light exists. Immediately, a few subtleties jump out at the reader.
John Webster’s’ “A Dirge” is a delightfully gloomy poem contrasting the power and the all-encompassing inevitability of death with the beauty and balance of life. It seems to ponder on this deep subject, using images of nature to communicate its message. Webster makes his purpose immediately clear by the title-a “dirge” itself is a dismal funeral song. The verses clearly speak of death and the eternal nothingness that may reside afterwards-never in the poem does Webster mention anything about the eternal soul or afterlife. Clearly he is not concerned with life or metaphysics, but with death and the natural world.
Indeed, animals and nature are a reoccurring theme throughout the concise poem. “Call for the robin-redbreast,” it begins, “since o’er shady groves they hover, and with leaves and flowers do cover, the friendless bodies of unburied men.” His description of trees, birds and animals is undeniably beautiful even as his account of the bodies of forgotten men being covered in leaves is emotionally draining to the reader. Webster addresses wrens and robins, two kinds of small birds which fed on insects-perhaps those same insects currently feeding on the corpse’s flesh? At once, he speaks to loneliness and beauty, death and life in one package.