Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand
In the moon that is always rising,
- The speaker tells us that back then, when he was young and easy, he just didn't care that time was going to swoop in and take it all away.
- At some point in his youth, apparently, time came along and took him up to the barn loft, which was filled with swallows.
- And time led him "by the shadow of [his] hand." Now there's an image.
- Earlier in the poem, everything was bright and gleaming and golden, but here, we have an image of a shadow of the speaker's hand. Things are getting darker, fast. That growing dark highlights the contrast from his earlier, "lamb white" days.
- It's also highlighted in the fact that it's no longer the sun shining down on all this—it's "the moon that is always rising." And the fact that that moon is always rising would seem to suggest that this coming night, this falling from grace, thanks to time, is going to last a long, long while.
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
- The speaker tells us that he also didn't care that as he slept as a young'un, time was flying with the high fields.
- It sure sounds like time is pulling a fast one on the speaker. Just when he thought everything was perfect and going to last forever, time heads out and takes the "high fields" with him.
- The tone has shifted considerably here. We've said adios to the fantasy of endless youth, and the landscape is folding up and heading out.
- And not only that, but the speaker says he didn't even notice everything on its way out—he was too busy not caring. Ah, to get those days back.
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
- Talk about a mood shift. The beauty that's been established in the previous five stanzas has suddenly and sorrowfully disappeared.
- When the speaker wakes this time, instead of waking up to "the farm, like a wanderer white / With the dew," the farm has "forever fled from the childless land." The kids are gone and the field has picked up stakes and moved on. Sorry y'all, show's over.
- Line 52 begins with "Oh." And that one little syllable makes all the difference in the world. With that sad little "Oh," the speaker conveys his wistfulness and regret, remembering bygone days that are long gone. His nostalgia really shines through, all in that one word.
- Here, we get the real truth about all those young, easy days. The speaker only had them because he was at the "mercy" of time's "means."
- But it turns out that the whole time he was young and "green," he was also "dying." Ain't that the truth? We mean, if you want to get pessimistic about it, you could say that the moment we're born, we're on the long march to death. It's just that when we're young and carefree, we don't really think about it.
- Suddenly, the color green—once associated with growth and vitality—is associated with death, because the entire time the speaker was young and green, he was "in chains." And he was singing in them because he simply didn't know any better. Ah, the follies of youth.
- Finally, the last word of the poem is "sea." The speaker, as a youngster, sang in his chains like the sea. This either means that the sea sings, or the sea sings in chains; there's a bit of ambiguity here.
- Why the sea? So far, the poem's been all about the land, and suddenly the sea's singing. What gives? Your guess is as good as ours, so Shmoop amongst yourselves.