In Blake’s “Songs of Innocence,” what does it mean to be “innocent”?  After rereading the introductory material to the Songs on pages 8-10, I was struck by this line – “to be innocent though, is not always to be ignorant of the facts that girls and boys get lost, or have to live in orphanages or on the street, or are sold as slaves or chimney sweeps” (9).   This suggests that innocence and ignorance are not the same thing – someone can be aware of all the unfairness, tragedy, and sadness of life, and still remain innocent.  The passage continues, “These invincible innocents, despite their circumstances, retain their spiritual resilience and fresh outlook; with joy and contentment they love their enemies and dream of a better world” (9).  Thus, “innocence” is “spiritual resilience” and “fresh outlook,” basically optimism.  At first, there seems to be nothing inherently wrong with this optimism, but this positive outlook is so relentless, causing innocents to “love their enemies,” that the idealism seems almost blind.  Innocence, then, is a problematic concept.  The problems of innocence  are stressed  in “The Little Black Boy”.  In this poem, a young black boy is not ignorant to his situation in the world.  He says, “And I am black, but O! my soul is white./ White as an angel is the English child:/ But I am black as if bereav’d of light”.  He knows that he is black – he is not totally ignorant of his situation.  However, he also believes that his soul is white and that once he goes to heaven he will be loved by the white boys who hate him now.  Innocence, then, is a product of the stories mothers tell their children.  The black boy says all that he knows based on a story his mother taught him underneath a tree.  Innocence has to be taught.  If it wasn’t, the black child, would probably be less optimistic and idealistic about his future.    If innocence has to be taught, then innocence is a system of logic and reason.  Innocence is the system of knowledge and beliefs children are taught so that they can cope with the experience.  Innocence and experience are not two separate modes of experience, but rather innocence is the system of logic that is learned so that people can cope with everyday life, which is inevitably filled with experience.

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