William Blake uses an introductory stanza addressing the children of the future. Using the device of incredulity (disbelief), he describes the poem as an indignant protest that his own age, “a former time” was so unloving and unjust.
In the next verse he refers to an “Age of Gold” in which love could be pure and innocent. This golden age is one of youth, lit by the natural and God made light of the sun, “the holy light”, and is described as free from the darkness and cold of winter and experience.
In the third stanza he begins to tell the story of a young and innocent couple “fill’d with softest care” who meet at dawn in a garden, as Adam and Eve met in the Garden of Eden at the dawn of time. They do not have to hide their love, as God has removed “the curtains of the night”.
The story progresses in the fourth stanza, describing how, without the oppression of parents and strangers their young, innocent attraction flourishes and blossoms in the fresh natural environment of the grass, in which the girl gains confidence.
In the fifth stanza the couple agree to continue their tryst at night.
The sixth verse describes how the girl went to her father feeling happy and joyful, “bright”, but is greeted by his condemnation. His expression is described as “Like the holy book”, a reference to the fierce and disapproving God who drove Adam and Eve from the Garden. The girl is terrified and her confidence vanishes.
The final verse is a hypocritical and ironic speech by the father. The girl is called Ona, meaning one, perhaps referring to her being alone now. Her father seems to be trying to make her feel responsible for his unhappiness. he is likened to a tree. “That shakes the blossoms of my hoary hair!”. Is this the Tree of Knowledge in the bible story?
In Blake’s world his characters are shackled by the chains of their minds, his simple, apparently naive rhyming is more than compensated by his intuition and originality. Like all great poets, he helps us to understand ourselves.