This version of Songs of Innocence tells a story about religious education and its effect on children. In “Nurse’s Song,” the nurse watches a group of children play outside. The sounds of their games and general happiness mesh with nature, and she feels an overwhelming sense of peace at the scene. The children seem to be young—they are described as “little ones” and are still being cared for by a nurse (Blake 25). They probably have not begun learning about Christianity from their mother, so they play peacefully outside together, seemingly one with nature. The image depicted on this particular page reminds me of a statue found on Vanderbilt’s campus called “Come Play,” which depicts a group of children motioning for another child to come join in their game. This inclusiveness suggests nativity and innocence, both in Blake’s work and in the statue found here in modern day (Haven).

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The second song, “The Lamb,” again sounds peaceful, but there are major discrepancies between the tone and the content of the song. The young child begins by innocently asking a lamb, “Little Lamb who made thee?” He then goes on to answer his own question, stating that “He is called by thy name, / For he calls himself a Lamb” (Blake 15). This appears to be a direct link to Jesus and Christianity. However, the little child cannot decide whether the lamb he is directing his question to is a lamb or a Lamb, indicating some confusion about the religious symbol of the lamb. It seems as if the child does not understand whether Jesus was a literal lamb, a figurative lamb, or the very lamb in front of him. This reflects the general ambiguous nature of religion in the purest way possible—the little boy is confused, but are people ever not confused about religion?

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The third song, “The Little Black Boy,” transitions from Christian ambiguity and confusion to twisting Christianity to explain or justify racism. The little black boy is told by his mother that his blackness “is but a cloud” that will disappear when he goes to Heaven. A picture of equality in Heaven is created—both “clouds” of black and white will disappear, and the little black boy “will be like [the English boy]” and will be loved by the English boy as an equal. He also claims that he will “shade [the English boy] from the heat [of God] till he can bear” (Blake16). This implies that being black is an extra hardship that will prepare the little black boy for Heaven better than the little English boy—as if God intended for blacks to face more trials than whites. This explanation twists Christianity until it justifies racism as a construct intended by God.  Although this song seems comforting on the surface—after all, the little black boy accepts himself and believes one day he will be equal with the English boy—he has still ultimately accepted racism as a Christian construct.

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Throughout these three songs, we see Christianity and religious education slowly confusing and even corrupting the children in question. In the first song, the children are innocent and young—they know nothing of religion, only of playing outside. In the second song, the little child is beginning to learn about his religion, but his understanding is muddled and confused—something that is unlikely to change as he gets older. In the third song, the little black boy utilizes Christian teachings to accept himself, but at the same time he accepts racism as a part of Christianity. These songs, when read in this order, tell the story of the corruption of Christian teachings—while each child means well in his understanding and application of religion, ultimately the happiest children are the ones with no knowledge of Christianity.

Works Cited

Haven, Katharine. Come Play. 1985. University General Sculpture Collection, Vanderbilt University, Nashville. University General Sculpture Collection. Web. 3 September 2013. <http://cpc-fis.vanderbilt.edu/view.php?label=3&gt;

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