Reading Songs of Experience, a major theme encountered is the pervading sadness and misconduct associated with Experience, a state of being marked by the loss of childhood vitality, by fear and inhibition, by social and political corruption, and by the oppression of State, Church, and the ruling classes.  For Blake, who was an English Dissenter opposing the rules of the Anglican Church, the human spirit slowly withers when suppressed by the doctrines of society and in consequence, a corruption of the soul directly induces corruption of action and society at large.

London is a key example of Experience’s pervading sadness and its resulting corruption, where “every face I meet marks of weakness, marks of woe.”  The speaker, walking the streets of London, discerns tension and angst in each face he passes realizing all people are entrenched in sorrow, a defining characteristic of the human condition.  Blake acknowledges sorrow as a habitual human phenomenon. “In every voice…the mind-forg’d manacles I hear.”  From Songs of Innocence, where the human spirit blossoms with joy and freedom, Songs of Experience depicts Innocence’s contrary state, a shackled soul.

Through London, it’s understood the imposition of social and political morality is what stifles the goodness and love inherent in every human spirit for “every blackning Church appalls/And the hapless Soldiers sigh/ Runs in blood down Palace Walls.  The Church and the State, for Blake, force people to restrain feeling with reason or religious and state doctrine.  Blake, in London’s last stanza, displays the immediate effect of such  restriction, where “the youthful Harlots curse…blights with plagues the marriage hearse.”  Here, an impoverished young girl is lured into the sex trade, social immorality, contracting gonorrhea and harming her newborn with blindness because, well, one reason is her soul, restricted by reason (due to Church and State) is stifled out of goodness and love and therefore, her decisions are able to bring vile outcomes.

 The Garden of Love as well expresses the imposition of Church on human sensibility.  “A chapel was built in the midst” of Love says the speaker; where Love and “so many sweet flowers bore” is replaced “with graves”.  In Blake’s opinion, as the Church stifles free-flowing feelings of the spirit, “binding with briars, my joys & desires”  it does.  Life is lived less well when bound by social rules and regulations and Blake is making a revolutionary argument in Songs of Experience, to eliminate the Church, because it thoroughly hinders the teaching of Christ (to love) rather than promote it.

William Blake is a hopeful poet though believing aspects of innocence can be regained.  In The Voice of the Ancient Bard, Blake seems to be advocating that an exceptional and peaceful future is possible.  When “Youth of delight come hither…Image of truth new born.”  Man harnessing delight, an important defining characteristic of the state of Innocence, can douse himself in realizations and the poetic genius revealing essential truths and in doing so, “stumble all night over the bones of the dead” or people trapped in the state of Experience.  Individuals, through delight, have the ability to access aspects of Innocence, which is the path to right action and improving social condition.  Both “doubt is fled & clouds of reason” meaning that the aspects of Experience which sadden and corrupt have dispersed leaving the individual to a state of increased freedom.  For Blake, this freedom is both subjective (freeing a sickened soul) and from the disbanding of institution, Church and State, those other “clouds of reason.”  With the Church and State breaking up, the soul is free to explore its joys without it continuously being restricted by precepts.  Songs of Experience is calling to alleviate “the clouds of reason” that the soul may be freed and only then Blake says will one “know not what but care,” or actual goodness.  Below is Blake’s physical description of our possible and hopeful future and collectivized community when institutionalized doctrine loses its reign and the soul can boundlessly explore.

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