The gliding fish that takes his play/ In shady nook of streamlet cool, / Thinks not how waters pass away, / And summer dries the pool. / The bird beneath his leafy dome, / Who trills his carol, loud and clear, / Thinks not how soon his verdant home / The lightning’s breath may sear. (Page 44, lines 1-8)
In Joanna Baillie’s “Song”, Baillie takes seemingly unrelated things such as fish and birds, and ties them together by using contrasting imagery to impact the tone. Throughout Joanna Baillie’s “Song”, she uses contrasting imagery to create a pessimistic tone throughout her poem.
For example, the poem starts off with “The gliding fish that takes his play” (line 1). This line starts the reader off with a feeling of freedom and joy. Using “gliding” and “play” creates an image of a carefree fish that goes where the flow takes it and has no worries about what may come. This is reinforced in the third line, “Thinks not how waters pass away”. This line illustrates how the fish is carefree by implying that it thinks only about the here and now rather than the worries of the unknown future. In the fourth line, “And summer dries the pool”, this line creates a shift for the poem’s tone by creating a feeling of bleakness. The pool where the fish glides, where it plays and lives its carefree life becomes dried up in the end. It changes the tone from happy and carefree to a feeling of temporary joy and helplessness. Much like in the first stanza, the second stanza starts off with positive imagery but ends with negative imagery.
For instance, the stanza starts off with, “The bird beneath his leafy dome, / Who trills his carol, loud and clear” (line 5-6). These lines form an image of a bird under the protection of its home, it is in a place where it is not afraid to loudly sing and chirp. The bird feels safe enough to make sounds so whatever is around can hear. By doing this, a feeling of safety and protection are created. The poem goes on to destroy this feeling, “Thinks not how soon his verdant home / The lightning’s breath may sear” (line 7-8). The bird’s home is soon to be easily destroyed by the lightning’s “breath”, searing the place where it felt safe. The bird’s home is there one moment but is quickly taken away by a simple “breath”, showing that it only takes a moment for your home, your protection, to be taken away and destroyed. This stanza starts off with a feeling of protection but then goes on to literally destroy what the bird used as protection against the elements creating a contrast between the two and changing the tone.
The poem continues to follow this pattern where each stanza starts off with a positive feeling but then transitions into a negative feeling. The continued use of contrasting imagery helps shape the pessimistic tone throughout this poem.