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The Ecchoing Green

The Sun does arise,
And make happy the skies;
The merry bells ring
To welcome the Spring;
The skylark and thrush,
The birds of the bush,
Sing lounder around
To the bells' chearful sound,
While our sports shall be seen
On the Echoing Green.

Old John, with white hair,
Does laugh away care,
Sitting under the oak,
Among the old folk.
They laugh at our play,
And soon they all say:
``Such, such were the joys
When we all, girls & boys,
In our youth time were seen
On the Echoing Green.''

Till the little ones, weary,
No more can be merry;
The sun does descend,
And our sports have on end.
Round the laps of their mothers
Many sisters and brothers,
Like birds in their nest,
Are ready for rest,
And sports no more seen
On the darkening Green.

Commentary by Jeff Gillett

The Ecchoing Green presents childhood play as essentially joyful, exuberant and innocent. The poem is written in short rhymed couplets with an anapaestic (rising) metre which serves to underline the sense of energy and enthusiasm. The sun rises to ‘make happy the skies’; the bells which ring are ‘merry’ and their sound is ‘chearful’. In a theme to be repeated in another exuberant poem, they ‘welcome the spring’, which is seen as a time of new life and of lively activity. Birds sing loudly and the children’s games are perceived as ‘sports’, which carries an implication of energy and of physicality. The fact that they are referred to as ‘our sports’ shows that the poet identifies closely with the children here: the poem is written from their perspective.

However, the innocence of the children’s play is not exclusive to the children themselves. Adults look on indulgently and reminisce, reliving their own childhood. ‘Old John with white hair’ is not merely venerable: he is a grandfather figure with a twinkle in his eye as he ‘does laugh away care’. The other ‘old folk’ join him in recalling the ‘joys’ of their own ‘youth time’. Innocence is not, then, a passing phase, but a continuing state of mind and being. Their attitude closely resembles that of the nurse in Nurse's Song from the Songs of Innocence, who allows the children to carry on playing as long as there is any light left. It stands in marked contrast to the Jehovean ‘father white’ in A Little Girl Lost from the Songs of Experience, who is waiting anxiously and fearfully as she returns from her love-making.

In the final stanza, the ‘little ones’ are ‘weary’, exhausted to the point where they can ‘no longer be merry’. However, the picture we are given is one of contentment with ‘many sisters and brothers’ all gathered ‘round the laps of their mothers’. The simile ‘Like birds in their nest’ suggests that the situation is entirely natural. There is no trace of resentment, as the children are ‘ready for rest’.

The reference to the ‘darkening green’ may not suggest that innocence will all-too-soon be replaced by experience. It could be seen as a simple equivalent to when ‘light fades away’ in Nurse's Song, meaning nothing more than that the day is over and it is time for bed. Nevertheless, it is tempting to see the phrase as ominous: a view reinforced by the number of times when dawn and morning are presented positively in both collections of poems. Consider, in addition to the opening lines of this very poem, The School Boy, who loves ‘to rise in a Summer morn’; ‘the opening morn’ in The Voice of the Ancient Bard; the longing for the break of day in Introduction from the Songs of Experience; and the ‘holy light’ which heralds the ‘rising day’ in A Little Girl Lost. Perhaps the darkness is best seen as being both literal and metaphorical…