'Children's Song' by R.S. Thomas

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We live in our own world,
A world that is too small
For you to stoop and enter
Even on hands and knees,
The adult subterfuge.
And though you probe and pry
With analytic eye,
And eavesdrop all our talk
With an amused look,
You cannot find the centre
Where we dance, where we play,
Where life is still asleep
Under the closed flower,
Under the smooth shell
Of eggs in the cupped nest
That mock the faded blue
Of your remoter heaven.

Submitted by Andrew Mayers

Editor 1 Interpretation

An Enchanting Reflection on Life: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation of Children's Song by R.S. Thomas

Children’s Song by R.S. Thomas is a poem that evokes a sense of wonder, warmth, and nostalgia for the reader. This classic poem, published in 1966, captures the essence of childhood innocence and unbridled imagination while offering a poignant commentary on life and its fleeting nature. In this literary criticism and interpretation of Children’s Song, we will examine the themes, symbols, and language employed by R.S. Thomas to create a timeless masterpiece that touches the hearts of readers across generations.

Background Information

R.S. Thomas was a Welsh poet and Anglican priest who gained recognition for his works that explored the complexities of human nature, Welsh identity, and spirituality. He was born on March 29, 1913, in Cardiff, Wales, and grew up in a predominantly English-speaking family. However, he learned Welsh later in life and became an advocate for the preservation of the Welsh language and culture. Thomas’ poetry often reflects his experiences and observations of Welsh life, landscape, and history. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996 and was awarded several prestigious literary honors, including the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1964 and the National Eisteddfod Crown for poetry in 1966. Thomas died in 2000 at the age of 87.


Children’s Song is a poem that explores several themes that are central to R.S. Thomas’ body of work. The most prominent themes in this poem are childhood innocence, imagination, and mortality.

Childhood Innocence

The poem celebrates the purity and simplicity of childhood that is unencumbered by the complexities of adult life. The children depicted in the poem are carefree, playful, and joyful. They are not weighed down by the burdens of responsibility, anxiety, or fear. The narrator marvels at their ability to find wonder and beauty in the world around them, even in the most mundane things like stones, water, and mud. The following lines exemplify this theme:

'Stones and mud and do not care, Down the river we will fare; Plucking rushes, Free from care, Down the river we will fare.'

The repetition of the phrase “down the river we will fare” conveys the sense of adventure and exploration that characterizes childhood. The children are not afraid to take risks or to venture into the unknown. They are open to new experiences and are not restricted by social norms, expectations, or prejudices.


Another theme that is closely related to childhood innocence in this poem is imagination. The children’s ability to imagine and create is highlighted throughout the poem. They see the world not as it is but as it could be. They transform stones into boats, mud into pies, and rushes into playthings. They are not limited by the constraints of reality but are free to dream and invent.

'Mud and rushes, sand and tide, See our boats at anchor ride; Wisely now we will decide On which river we will glide.'

The use of the phrase “wisely now we will decide” shows that the children are not merely playing but are engaged in a serious enterprise. Their imagination is not frivolous or superficial but is a means of exploring and understanding the world around them.


The theme of mortality is introduced in the final stanza of the poem. The narrator reflects on the transience of life and the inevitability of death. He contrasts the children’s vibrant and carefree existence with the awareness of his own mortality. He realizes that the same river that carries the children’s boats also leads to the sea of death.

'Stones and mud and do not care, Down the river we will fare; Down the river we will fare, To the sea without a care.'

The repetition of the phrase “down the river we will fare” takes on a more ominous tone in the final stanza. The river, which was once a source of joy and adventure, becomes a symbol of the passage of time and the cycle of life and death. The children’s innocence and imagination may be fleeting, but they offer a glimpse of the beauty and wonder that life has to offer.


R.S. Thomas employs several symbols in Children’s Song to enhance the themes of the poem. These symbols include stones, water, mud, and rushes.


Stones are a recurring symbol in the poem. They represent the children’s sense of adventure and imagination. The children see stones not as mere objects but as potential boats that can take them on a journey down the river. The stones symbolize the children’s ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary and to find meaning and purpose in the world around them.


Water is another important symbol in the poem. It represents the flow of life and the passage of time. The river, which is the central setting of the poem, is a metaphor for the journey of life. The children’s boats, which are carried by the current of the river, symbolize the course of human existence. The river can be calm or turbulent, just as life can be smooth or challenging. The final stanza of the poem emphasizes the connection between the river and mortality by using the phrase “to the sea without a care.”

Mud and Rushes

Mud and rushes are symbols of the children’s creativity and imagination. They see mud not as something dirty and unpleasant but as something that can be molded into pies and cakes. They see rushes not as mere plants but as playthings that can be plucked and fashioned into boats. The mud and rushes symbolize the children’s ability to see the world through a different lens and to find beauty and joy in unexpected places.


The language used in Children’s Song is simple, direct, and evocative. R.S. Thomas employs a rhyme scheme and a repetitive structure that gives the poem a musical quality. The repetition of words and phrases such as “down the river we will fare” and “free from care” reinforces the themes of adventure, exploration, and innocence.

The use of alliteration and assonance in the poem adds to its musicality and creates a sense of rhythm and harmony. For example, the repetition of the “m” sound in “Mud and rushes, sand and tide” and the “r” sound in “See our boats at anchor ride” creates a sense of movement and fluidity that mirrors the flow of the river.

The poem is also rich in imagery and sensory detail. The descriptions of the stones, water, mud, and rushes are vivid and tactile. The reader can almost feel the weight of the stones and the coolness of the water. The use of sensory language enhances the themes of imagination and creativity by engaging the reader’s senses and inviting them to imagine the world as the children see it.


Children’s Song by R.S. Thomas is a timeless poem that celebrates the beauty and wonder of childhood while offering a poignant commentary on life and its fleeting nature. The themes of childhood innocence, imagination, and mortality are conveyed through the use of symbols, language, and imagery that create a sense of enchantment and nostalgia for the reader. This poem is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the essence of the human experience and to evoke emotions that transcend time and place.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Children's Song by R.S. Thomas is a classic poem that has captured the hearts of many readers over the years. The poem is a beautiful and poignant reflection on the innocence and wonder of childhood, and the way that children see the world around them.

The poem begins with the line "We live in our own world", which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The speaker is suggesting that children live in a world that is separate from the adult world, a world that is full of wonder and magic. This idea is reinforced in the next line, which reads "A world that is too small for you to stoop and enter". The speaker is suggesting that the world of childhood is a world that is inaccessible to adults, a world that is too small for them to enter.

The next few lines of the poem describe the world of childhood in more detail. The speaker talks about "the leaves we have trodden black", suggesting that children are more in tune with nature than adults are. They are able to appreciate the beauty of the natural world in a way that adults cannot. The speaker also talks about "the branches we have broken", suggesting that children are not afraid to explore and take risks. They are willing to push the boundaries and see what lies beyond.

The next stanza of the poem is particularly powerful. The speaker says "You who are grown up, tall, and grave, / You who have swollen veins and hearts of stone, / Have you forgotten, do you not recall, / How once we danced, how once we sang?" The speaker is addressing the adults directly, asking them if they have forgotten what it was like to be a child. The use of the words "tall" and "grave" suggests that the adults are serious and unapproachable, while the children are carefree and full of life. The use of the words "swollen veins" and "hearts of stone" suggests that the adults have become hardened and cynical, while the children are still open and vulnerable.

The final stanza of the poem is a call to action. The speaker says "Let the love of life be like the misty rains, / Coming softly, but flooding the river." The speaker is suggesting that adults should try to recapture the sense of wonder and joy that they felt as children. They should allow themselves to be open to the beauty of the world around them, and to appreciate the simple things in life. The use of the metaphor of the misty rains suggests that this process should be gentle and gradual, rather than sudden and overwhelming.

Overall, Children's Song is a beautiful and powerful poem that speaks to the heart of what it means to be a child. It reminds us that children see the world in a different way than adults do, and that we should try to recapture some of that innocence and wonder as we grow older. The poem is a call to action, urging us to embrace life and to appreciate the beauty of the world around us. It is a timeless reminder of the importance of staying connected to our inner child, and of never losing sight of the magic that surrounds us every day.

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