“Friends” is a sweet sing-song-like poem written by the early 20th-century American poet Abbie Farwell Brown. This poem was first published in her well-known children’s book of poetry, A Pocketful of Posies (1902). It is about a speaker (Brown’s poetic persona, filled with childish innocence) who talks about the “gentle friends” of nature and how they care about her. She is not alone as her friends, the meek “Sky,” motherly “Sun,” and passionate “Wind” are always there to comfort her. This poem reflects Brown’s love for nature, nature’s unhindered melody, and how children should never feel insecure as there’s always someone if they have the eyes to recognize that entity.
- Read the full text of “Friends” below:
Friends by Abbie Farwell Brown How good to lie a little while And look up through the tree! The Sky is like a kind big smile Bent sweetly over me. The Sunshine flickers through the lace Of leaves above my head, And kisses me upon the face Like Mother, before bed. The Wind comes stealing o'er the grass To whisper pretty things, And though I cannot see him pass, I feel his careful wings. So many gentle Friends are near Whom one can scarcely see, A child should never feel a fear, Wherever he may be. - from A Pocketful of Posies (1902)
In the first three stanzas of “Friends,” Brown’s persona talks about her three best friends. She feels there is no need always to have humans have friends. Even the “kind” sky bent to embrace her weary heart can be one of her closest friends. Not only that, the sun that flickers through the “lace of leaves” drops soft, warm kisses on her cheek (like a mother does to her child before sleep) is also her companion.
In the third stanza, she shows the loving side of the wind, which comes kissing the grass and whispers stories from faraway lands in her ears. It acts as an ambassador of nature, conveying the affairs of some distant place to the speaker. Therefore, Brown advises children they should not be afraid of being left out or feeling lonely. Nature is always there wherever they are.
The title of the poem is open-ended. It hints at the central idea of the poem that is the definition of friends and what the word “friend” means to Brown. She uses the allegorical form in order to communicate her central idea that our true friends never left us alone. They are always there to support us, no matter if we seek their help or not. So, who are humankind’s true friends?
The speaker notes, “So many gentle Friends are near/ Whom one can scarcely see.” It means that it is hard to find or recognize who our true friends are, as William Shakespeare notes in his poem “Friends and Flatterers,” “Faithful friends are hard to find.” Through her poem, Brown points out the fact that nature is our true friend if we have the eyes to see and the heart to feel it.
Form, Rhyme Scheme, & Meter
Brown’s “Friends” is written in the quatrain form; the poem consists of four quatrains (stanzas having four lines each) with internally rhyming lines. The text is musical for the presence of internal rhymes, repetition of similar sounds, and the meter. It is written from the first-person point of view. The presence of a first-person speaker (who is the poet herself, describing her feelings through her poetic persona) and the musicality make it a beautiful lyric poem. In the last quatrain, Brown uses the third-person point of view in order to refer to children.
This poem is written in the ABAB rhyme scheme. It means the first and third lines and the second and fourth lines contain a similar rhyme, respectively. The rhyming pair of words of each stanza are:
- Stanza One: “while” and “smile”; “tree” and “me”
- Stanza Two: “lace” and “face”; “head” and “bed”
- Stanza Three: “grass” and “pass”; “things” and “wings”
- Stanza Four: “near” and “fear”; “see” and “bee”
Apart from that, Brown also uses internal rhymes in the poem. For instance, in the first stanza, “lie” (line one) and “sky” (line three) rhyme. In the second stanza, “flickers” (line five) and “Mother” (line four) contain somewhat a similar rhyme.
The overall poem is written in iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter alternatively. It means the first and third of each stanza contains four iambs (unstressed-stressed) and the second and fourth lines have three iambs. The knowledge of the meter helps one to recite such a beautiful sing-song-like piece beautifully. Let’s have a look at the scansion of the overall poem to make the reading more enjoyable.
How good/ to lie/ a lit/-tle while
And look/ up through/ the tree!
The Sky/ is like/ a kind/ big smile
Bent sweet/-ly o/-ver me.
The Sun/-shine fli/-ckers through/ the lace
Of leaves/ a-bove/ my head,
And kis/-ses me/ up-on/ the face
Like Mo/-ther, be/-fore bed.
The Wind/ comes stea/-ling o’er/ the grass
To whis/-per pret/-ty things,
And though/ I can/-not see/ him pass,
I feel/ his care/-ful wings.
So ma/-ny gen/-tle Friends/ are near
Whom one/ can scarce/-ly see,
A child/ should ne/-ver feel/ a fear,
Wher-e/-ver he/ may be.
It can be seen how beautifully Abbie Farwell Brown has composed the poem. The presence of a regular meter with a set number of upbeats per line incorporates a set melody into the text. Brown uses elision in “o’er” in the first line of the third stanza to keep the iambic tetrameter intact. Besides, the rising rhythm is in resemblance with the optimistic mood of the speaker.
Poetic Devices & Figurative Language
After structurally scanning the text of “Friends,” it becomes essential to discuss the use of figurative language. Let’s have a look at all the important poetic devices in Brown’s poem.
When a specific sound, whether it is a consonant or vowel, is repeated at the beginning of neighboring words to create an internal rhythm, it is called alliteration. In this poem, Brown uses this device in the following instances:
- “lie a little” (line 1)
- “big smile/ Bent” (line 3-4)
- “smile/ Bent sweetly” (lines 3-4)
- “lace of leaves” (lines 5-6)
- “before bed” (line 8)
- “scarcely see,” (line 14)
- “feel a fear” (line 15)
Consonance & Assonance
Consonance is a repetition of the consonant sound at the beginning of closely placed words, and assonance is the same repetition of sounds, but in this case, the vowel sound recurs in words.
The first sound device is used at the beginning of the poem: “How good to lie a little while/ And look up through the tree!”. In these lines, the “l” and “r” sounds are repeated. Even in the following lines, Brown repeats the “l” sound in “like,” “smile,” and “sweetly.” Likewise, the soft “s” sound recurs in the second stanza.
Assonance also occurs in a number of instances. For example, the vowel sound “u” is repeated in the “look” and “through”; “ai” sound recurs in “Sky,” “like,” “kind,” and “smile”; the “i” (pronounce as “e”) sound is repeated in “sweetly” and “me”. Similarly, the “i” sound recurs in “see” and “him” (line 11); “his” and “wings” (line 12); “scarcely see” (line 14); “he” and “be” (line 16). The same “i” sound can be heard in the examples, but the pitch of each “i” is different.
Brown makes it easy for readers to find where she uses personification. She capitalizes the first letter of the idea personified. For instance, in the first stanza, “Sky” personified and invested with the human attribute of bending over someone. In the second stanza, “Sunshine” or the sun is personified, and in the next stanza, “Wind” is invested with the feature of whispering. Finally, the speaker addresses all these inanimate ideas as “gentle Friends.”
A simile is an explicit comparison between two ideas by using the words “like,” “as,” etc. The usage of this device can be found in the following lines:
- “The Sky is like a kind big smile”
- “And kisses me upon the face/ Like Mother, before bed.”
In the first example, “Sky” is compared to a “big smile.” The next example shows an explicit comparison between “Sunshine” and “Mother.”
This device, unlike a simile, is an implicit comparison between two distant ideas. For instance, the “leaves” are compared to a “lace”. It seems that the leaves of a tree form a beautiful lacework. Likewise, Brown compares the “Wind” to a bird implicitly in the line, “I feel his careful wings.”
While reading, it can be noticed one has to read the two lines together to understand the complete sense. For instance, the first two lines (“How good to lie a little while/ And look up through the tree!”), when read together makes complete sense. Brown enjambs these lines to make readers go through them at one go. The same is applied to the rest of the lines.
The poem begins with an exclamatory remark, which is a figurative device used to convey one speaker’s feelings and emotions. It occurs in the lines, “How good to lie a little while/ And look up through the tree!”.
The phrase “So many” at the beginning of line 13 is a use of hyperbole. It is implemented for the sake of emphasis.
The term “whisper” in the line, “To whisper pretty things,” is the use of onomatopoeia. This word imitates the sound of whispering.
Line-by-Line Analysis & Explanation
How good to lie a little while
And look up through the tree!
The Sky is like a kind big smile
Bent sweetly over me.
Abbie Farwell Brown’s “Friends” is a lyrical poem about a speaker who feels calm at the same time inspired in proximity with nature. The speaker begins by using a rhetorical exclamation. It reflects her sense of excitement. The rising rhythm also hints at her cheerful mental state. According to her, it feels good to lie for a while in the grass and look up through the tree at the wide-open sky. The verb “look up” gives readers a hint about where the speaker looks.
In the following lines, she shares the impression of the sky on her mind. It feels like the sky is the face of some more extraordinary being. She describes it as a “kind big smile”. While reading the lines, it seems as if a mother is bent over her child and looking at her innocent eyes. In this way, Brown depicts the kind and caring side of mother nature. From the first stanza, it becomes clear that one of the speaker’s friends is the Sky.
The Sunshine flickers through the lace
Of leaves above my head,
And kisses me upon the face
Like Mother, before bed.
In the second quatrain, the speaker draws attention to another image. She describes how the sun rays flicker through the lacework of leaves while she gazes at the sky. Brown conveys the sense of touch through the tactile image of the sun rays in the speaker’s head. A sense of warmth and care is communicated through this image.
Like the previous stanza, in this one, the speaker personifies the sun. When the sunshine falls on her head, it feels like her mother’s kiss. Her mother kisses her every day before bed. She feels exactly the same sensation. In the last line of this stanza, the poet capitalizes “Mother.” So, from this stanza, it can be inferred that not only the “Sunshine” (or the sun) but also her mother is her best friend.
The Wind comes stealing o’er the grass
To whisper pretty things,
And though I cannot see him pass,
I feel his careful wings.
The third stanza begins with a kinesthetic image of the wind blowing over the grass. Readers can imagine how the grass bends in the wind’s direction. The speaker imagines this scene a bit differently. By personifying the wind, she says that the wind stealthily kisses (“stealing”) the grass while coming in her way. The sound of the breeze is conveyed through the onomatopoeic term “whisper.” Besides, the speaker has an understanding of the wind’s (nature’s) language as she describes how the wind tells her about “pretty things.” It is not that the wind actually speaks with her. The different sounds of the wind feel like an incoherent speech of a child.
The speaker discloses her inability to see the wind pass. It is interesting to note that the speaker uses the pronoun “him” for the wind. In her imagination, she compares the wind to a playful boy. It comes and tells her some exciting things that cheer her up. Then it runs away quickly. But the speaker can feel its “careful wings.” Here, Brown compares the wind to a bird. She uses the adjective “careful” to hint at the fact that the wind cares for the speaker. It makes sure not to hurt her with its wings while running away to another place.
So many gentle Friends are near
Whom one can scarcely see,
A child should never feel a fear,
Wherever he may be.
The last stanza of “Friends” contains the main idea. Brown begins this section with a hyperbolic phrase, “So many …” It refers to the fact that there are several other “Friends” out there in nature. It could be the wild animals, insects, the river, different trees, etc. If the speaker is able to make only three friends, it does not mean that the number of “gentle Friends” is limited. If we have eyes to see them, they will be our friends one day. Besides, they are “gentle.” It means they are kind and know how to keep their friendships.
In the last two lines, the speaker tells children that they should not fear if they are alone. Wherever they are, these friends of nature will always be there. It does not matter whether they can see them or not. They have to believe the fact that they are never alone. Brown ends her poem on this optimistic note.
Brown explores a number of themes in her poem “Friends” that include nature, friendship, and the power of imagination. In this poem, Brown shows different aspects of nature. For instance, in the first stanza, she talks about the mild and kind side of nature. The verb “bent” signifies that nature is filled with humility and meekness. It is not like proud human beings who are too stiff to bend. They don’t know the art of being kind to others.
In the following stanzas, the caring and affectionate, playful, and passionate side of nature is explored. Besides, this piece also taps on the theme of friendship. In the last stanza, the poet implicitly hints at the fact that true friends are always there to provide protection and comfort. Overall, this poem shows a child’s power of imagination, who imagines the sky, sun, and wind as her friends.
“Friends” is written by the early 20th-century American poet Abbie Farwell Brown. This poem was first published in her first collection of children’s poetry, A Pocketful of Posies, in 1902. Brown mainly wrote stories for children that explored Christian fables, Norse mythology, and Canadian Indian folklore. The Book of Saints and Friendly Beasts (1900) is one of her most popular children’s works. In “Friends,” she used conventional rhyme and meter. She did not deviate from the contemporary rules of versification. Besides, this piece also shows her sense of romanticism (love for nature).
Questions and Answers
Through her poem “Friends,” Abbie Farwell Brown communicates an inspirational message to children. She advises them not to be afraid of being left out or feeling alone. It is because nature and all the “gentle Friends” are always there wherever they are or go. Like a mother never leaves her child alone, nature never deserts her children.
The most important themes of Brown’s “Friends” are friendship, nature, and imagination. In this poem, a speaker describes her friendship with the sky, sun, and wind. The way she describes them, it feels like they are really her steadfast friends. Besides, this poem also reflects the speaker’s love for nature and the power of her imagination.
This line contains visual imagery of the soft sun rays coming through the lacework of leaves. Here, the poet compares the leaves to lace.
The Sunshine flickers through the “lace of leaves” when the speaker lies under a tree to gaze at the sky.
The wind comes stealing over the grass and whispers pretty things in the speaker’s ear.
The speaker of “Friends” describes the sky as a “kind big smile” that is bent sweetly over her. Here, the poet depicts the image of a clear blue sky.
Similar Poems about Nature & Friends
- “Friends and Flatterers” by William Shakespeare — In this poem, Shakespeare describes the nature of fake friends and how to recognize who our true friends are.
- “Fear” by Khalil Gibran — This poem describes what fear is and how to overcome it.
- “Morning Poem” by Mary Oliver — This poem is about being cheerful and optimistic in all phases of life, embracing the beauty of nature, and finding happiness in small things.
- “Deep in the Quiet Wood” by James Weldon Johnson — It’s about how the hustle of daily life restricts the soul and how the soul finds true solitude in the woods.