Tag Archive: experience


I was intrigued to see Blake included a poem titled “Infant Sorrow” in Songs of Experience. Although I knew that Songs of Experience offered contrary poems to Songs of Innocence, “Infant Joy” was not a poem I expected to have a contrary poem. An infant is the epitome of innocence—he has absolutely no worldly experience, and he is not old enough to know of the sorrows and corruption of the world. For this reason, I expected “Infant Joy” to be a standalone poem—for Blake to utilize it as a way of showing “true innocence,” especially when compared to Songs of Experience.

By including “Infant Sorrow” in Songs of Experience, I think that Blake is making a very poignant statement. The infant itself has no worldly experience; therefore this poem can hardly be considered a song of “experience.” What does this say about human nature? Can it be assumed that infants are truly the only joyous humans because of their lack of knowledge and corruption, as Songs of Innocence would have you believe? “Infant Sorrow” paints a much darker picture of humanity, beginning as early as birth. The baby’s unhappiness seems to imply that sorrow is an inherent human trait, and that it is not experience that corrupts human nature, but the very natures that we are born with. This problematizes our reading of “Infant Joy”—is the baby actually happy, or is it a fleeting joy that will soon be lost to a life of sorrow? And is there anything that can preserve that joy, or is humanity destined for sorrow, regardless of experience?

In Songs of Innocence, Blake integrates text and image to express his understanding of the dichotomy of Adam and Eve’s fall told in the book of Genesis. By representing trees and foliage around the poems themselves, Blake manipulates the evident theme of the text, undermining the establishment of any one conclusion. On the title page, the tree grows from the right side of the page, engulfing the words “Songs” and “of” while only circling the word “Innocence,” indicating there was a state of innocence before the Fall. In the opening poems,  however, the tree (assumed here to represent the biblical Tree of Knowledge) becomes less upright as on the title page and instead looms heavily over the figures—a physical reminder of the burden of knowledge and experience. In “The Little Black Boy,” two trees sprout from each side of the composition, so even as the mother comforts the worries of her enslaved son, the branches reach toward the pair, omnipresent and dark foreshadows of reality. By analyzing the progression of the foliage from the cover page onward in Songs of Innocence, one can see how Blake imagines the progression of experience—first from a visible temptation to an interactive and inescapable part of human existence.