Tag Archive: experience

We are Roses with Thorns

The Lilly
The Modest Rose puts forth a thorn:
The humble Sheep, a threatening horn:
While the Lilly white, shall in Love delight
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.

“The Lilly” in Songs of Experience, a poem so short yet it encapsulates one of the biggest themes within Blake’s collection of songs. As all are brought into this world innocent, all will as well be corrupt through time and experience. Blake’s metaphoric use of nature to explain this concept is admirable because by explaining it this way, it creates colorful mental images and also results in the poetic forms that we have come to know. They are fun, catchy, melodic, and most importantly, grasps the attention of children. We are placed in the position of a child when we as adults read these poems; except, we are no longer innocent, further complicating how these poems should be read or understood.

Our minds shift from an objective mode of thinking to a subjective one through age and experience. For example, a poem in Songs of Innocence is titled “The Blossom” does not specify exactly what flower has blossomed. All we see is a flower and the type of flower it is does not matter when we are young and innocent. In Songs of Experience, Blake writes of several different types of flowers; a rose, a sun flower, and a lilly, each one given a different personification. They are all still just flowers, but are interpreted differently. A rosebud blooms and develops thorns as a way of saying the world is a dangerous place and it must protect itself. The same goes with the lamb who grows a pair of horns. Simply, these are metaphors for how our thoughts are shaped by the world. We become corrupt and lose our innocence when we grow our thorns and our horns because of the way we think. The lilly is a prime example of purity and in a sense can be compared to a holy figure. It is impossible to be like the lilly. It is as though Blake does not create a contrary about nature between Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience but rather it is more of a continuation in explaining that we are part of nature and we will experience the same experiences of all other living things.

-Van Vang


Children are wanted to be thought of as innocent bearers of light that are the hope for a better existence. Yet there is always that fear that they will grow up and become exposed to the truths that taint them and destroy that child-like wonder that they have. It is through the The Nurse’s Song, in both Innocence and Experience, that show this promise of a protected being full of life and vibrancy but that could easily be affected by the harsh realities that the world has to offer. In Innocence, Blake states:

When the voices of children are heard on the green

And laughing is heard on the hill,

My Heart is at rest within my breast

And every thing else is still

The poem gives the idea that the “voices of the children” are this harmonizing song of promise of joy. It is this song of innocence that is being “heard on the hill” and reassures them that the harsh realities will not affect the children. The want to preserve their childhood and have them “rest” and keep them “still” however in truth there is no way of avoiding the truths of reality. The poem undergoes an evolution when Walker decides to give the children a nostalgic view through the Experience collection. Blake starts off the poem:

When the voices of children are heard on the green

And whisperings are in the dale:

The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind,

My face turns green and pale

He decides to start the poem just as the other one to invoke a sense of connectivity with the past and that the past itself is what shapes one. It is a callback to better times when that childlike wonder existed but also helps to paint a new status quo of age. There is nostalgia in the way that the narrator speaks about “The days of my youth” being ‘fresh in my mind” and it is something that the narrator lacks. It is this that transforms them into “green and pale” a sickness that spreads through them taking away the innocence and replacing it with experience. These contraries serve not to go against one another but rather remind the former of where they came from. Some see the innocence being lost as a negative but what Blake is trying to reassure others is that they will retain some semblance of it in their memory. It is this memory that further helps to develop them into a being of thought and wisdom.

-Alexis Blanco

The innocence that is found in “A Dream” is bounded by the warm opportunistic tone offered in the last two stanzas, especially the last the line:

Pitying, I dropped a tear:
But I saw a glow-worm near,
Who replied, ‘What wailing wight
Calls the watchman of the night?

‘I am set to light the ground,
While the beetle goes his round:
Follow now the beetle’s hum;
Little wanderer, hie thee home! ‘

It appears as if the Emmet is given the chance to unite with their family once again, offered by the open-ended style of the resolution. Here, the reader is immediately pulled into the world of the ant and their family; an image of their reuniting is fantasized as move on from the story. It has no real ending other than the glow-worm offering its aid to the ant. Had this been written for Experience, then I’m sure Blake would have suggested a different ending; if it were anything like the ending found in “The Angel”, we would find the Emmet was too late. Though this was only the dream of innocence, and only a dream of experience ends this way…

I hate to pose the same question as the speaker in Blake’s poem, but what can it mean, this dream? If the idea of experience is to bridge the outcomes of reality and build expectations from said experience, what can this dream–of a fictional place–mean in relation to experience? Surely even the concept of dreaming and the fountain of imagination of which it is created, must be considered innocent, for they are unreal–a non-tangible experience. But where do we begin deeming the ideas of the subconscious as manifestations of experience?

–Daniel Lizaola Lopez

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.