Tag Archive: Songs of Innocence and Experience


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William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience are dichotomized into two categories: one of the newness of childhood and another that is tainted by the perils of misery. However, although the poems differ in form and attitude, there are also parallels and threads that beg to be analyzed by the reader.

The poem EARTH’s Answer. from the Songs of Experience contrasts the poem The Lamb from the Songs of Innocence for obvious reasons. The Earth’s Answer is a poem that personifies the Earth as a divine (feminine) character. Whereas, The Lamb is a poem that is about an innocent child, a male character, talking to a male character (if we will call the Christian God male). The Lamb is also devout to God and blessed by him: “Little Lamb God bless thee”. Earth’s Answer has a more resentful tone stating: “I hear the Father of the ancient men/ Selfish father of men/ Cruel jealous selfish fear”.

Both poems can be comparable because they both deal with entrapment. In Earth’s answer the bondage that the Earth experiences is more apparent as she is: “chain’d in night” and “her locks covered with grey despair”. The bondage in the Songs of Experience is due to the condition of mankind that needs to help her break the chains of their selfish fear that denies free love. In The Lamb, the bondage is less apparent. The entrapment in this sense is apparent by the inquiry of the voice (the boy) asking the lamb (but not really asking since he knows the answer) who “gave thee life & bid thee feed” and “gave thee clothing of delight”. The Boy asking The Lamb who has done all of this for him takes on an expectation of forced gratitude from the lamb that owes everything to God. In a way, to be forced to be grateful itself is an act of control over an individual. In this way the lamb is also being imprisoned by God himself.

-Beyanira Bautista

 

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What a Beautiful World

The following story line reveals the “Innocence” of a child’s understanding, or lack thereof.  While in some of the writings I wrote the mother as the speaker, it is to be inferred that the child is listening, but again with a naivety.  Blake wrote much about the innocence of children in “Songs of Innocence.”  In one of the pictures I chose, the mother and child are black.  I chose to place this here, aside both other depictions where the families are white, in order to show that the black child has some sense of his place in the world, but yet still may not totally know yet.  On the other hand, while the white mothers and children will experience a different perspective of life, I still feel that the white children, too, will be entering a world of chaos, which Blake reveals in the other book. -Marcy Martinez

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My child, how shall I explain.
It seems that you understand the vain.
It seems as though you know your place,
It seems as if you know your name.
How can I explain to thee,
That lines and divides shall conquer we.
But still I shall guide thee with utter strength.
Leading you to a special rank
To me, your shade of skin
Is beyond a beauty.
And God only sees, what should He.

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My sight is pure, so far I see.
No corruption, only smiles of teeth.
No idea of what color means.
No clue of the difference
between poor and elite.
My mother’s eyes, happy to be.
She carries me, with liberty.
She embraces me, with a loving touch.
She shows me the world,
But not too much.
Im happy in this life of mine.
Sunshine, skies, and butterflies.
No sense of ill or woes,
Just living a life, knowing
Where I shall go.

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Looking down upon these two,
Feeling blessed for what they do.
They shall bask in the light of the sun
And their skin.
They shall live in a world
Where they shall not sin.
These two will go onto know it all.
Through seasons, survive,
Winter, Spring, and Fall.
All a while, gaining a sense of knowledge.
Looking forward to the day,
They make it to college.

For next Wednesday (2/7), students will analyze a poem from The Songs of Experience that has a “contrary” or negative twin poem in The Songs of Innocence.  How do these contrary poems/designs mutually inform, interrupt, or revise each other in a manner that is not apparent when these poems are read in isolation?

Alternatively, students can analyze a poem in The Songs of Experience that lacks a “contrary” in The Songs of Innocence.  Why are these non-contrarian poems significant in the context of the larger collection of songs?  How do these poems call into question Blake’s interpretive approach to opposition, negation, and dissonance?

Please focus on a pair of poems or one poem.  Categorize this post under “Experience, Earth, and Adulthood” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.  All posts are due by 8:30am next Wednesday, 2/7.

At first, the twin poems “Infant Joy” and “Infant Sorrow” seem to present contrary understandings of childhood. The infant in “Infant Joy” knows only happiness, presumably because he is just two days old and has no experience of the world. Indeed, the child’s separation from earthly reality is conveyed by the illustration, which suggests the child is closer to heaven than earth. The child, its mother and an angel are all cradled inside a flower, which represents the natural world. It is notable that trees, which are so prominent in Songs of Innocence, are absent from every illustration Blake made for “Infant Joy”. This suggests that the child has not yet gained knowledge of good and evil and instead exists in a state of prelapsarian harmony with the natural and divine worlds.

The infant in “Infant Sorrow” is depicted in an entirely human world. Like the infant in “Infant Joy,” it is with its mother, but there is no obviously divine element in the illustration. The real difference is what this infant is saying and how. It knows that the world is dangerous and painful. Its description of itself as “like a fiend hid in a cloud” suggests both that it is more cunning and self-aware than the baby in Infant Joy, who simply says: “I happy am/ Joy is my name.”

However, given the infants are roughly of the same age (as infants were both named and swaddled early), how can we explain why the child in “Infant Sorrow” has such a negative self-image? Experience is an unsatisfactory answer because while does explain the child’s knowledge of pain and danger, it is difficult to cite experience as the cause of the infant’s resignation (“I thought it best”) and self-perception this early on. The infant in “Infant Sorrow” is like a little adult to the extent that it comprehends and speaks like an adult, whilst the child in “Infant Joy” says how it feels directly and simply. It’s no coincidence that first infant is given simple words and the second infant complex ones.  Although the poems seem to present one innocent and one knowledgeable infant, the way these two depictions work together eventually suggests that our preconceived ideas of childhood are what Blake is really getting at.

In both images the child is with its mother and both are contained, just one by the swaddling bands and one by the flower. The swaddling bands and the flower represent different contemporary attitudes towards children. The flower suggests that children need to grow up as themselves, which was the philosophy Rousseau espoused when he wrote that “Nature wants children to be children before being men.”  On the contrary, swaddling forces the child to conform to the adults’ wishes. Blake also puts adults’ words in the infant’s mouth in “Infant Sorrow.” It seems nonsensical that an infant could view itself as a fiend, but it was also a contemporary position that children were born in sin and had to be disciplined. Both infants are framed by societal attitudes, so it is only with knowledge of them that we can guess at why the infants in both poems express themselves as they do. Although “Infant Joy” seems more simple and charming at first, when we look at it with “Infant Sorrow,” we can seethe the two poems acknowledge the mysteriousness of childhood and that we can only interpret it in relation to ourselves as experienced adults. As infants cannot speak as clearly as the infants in these poems, we are left wondering whose thoughts Blake’s infants are expressing. And as we cannot remember infanthood as we remember other parts of our lives, it is harder to draw on as a form of experience. The poems suggest that we imagine childhood more than we experience it. The two representations can be so fundamentally different because there are some aspects of life that experience cannot fully help us to understand.

“The Clod & the Pebble” lacks an obvious contrary in the Songs of Innocence, itself containing its own internal dissonance and not requiring a counterpoint. The tension is that between the malleable and the rigid, self-abnegation and assertion of the will, acquiescence and defiance.  The clod is flexible and yielding and thereby subsumed into a greater than singular experience, i.e. mashed back into the earth by hooves; the pebble is intransigent, stalwart in the midst of flux, i.e. the brook, and, as such, retains its singularity. The two become representative of the dialectical tension between self-effacing (“seeketh not Itself to please”) and egocentric love (“seeketh only Self to please, / To bind another to its delight”). In the latter, love can only regard the beloved as object, something to be possessed; in the former, all obligation to the self and identity apart from the beloved is dispensed with. Each is given equal heft in the poem, with the first and third stanzas nearly mirror opposites of each other syntactically as well as in message. “The Clod & the Pebble” seeks to reconcile antimony by way way of a negotiated dialectic–operating in a manner synecdochic for the Songs of Innocence and of Experience proper–and irony. That a dirt clod and a pebble are taken as metaphors for differing types of affection is something of a comic undercutting for such a traditionally loftily-treated subject. The usual rhetoric trappings are cast aside in favor for simple particulars. The pastoral Songs of Innocence satirize the more tragic Songs of Experience and vice versa, illustrating what are, for Blake, the contrary, inevitably interwoven states of the soul. This is not deadlock, rather more akin to cross-pollination, as the poetic spirit unfurls itself in fighting, in reconciling such tensions.

And the EARTH said, “No”

The Introduction

The Ancient Bard’s call to Earth to “Turn away no more” is an attempt to reverse all of the wrongs occurring while the Earth continues to orbit. This prophetic call from the Ancient Bard (presumably Blake) lays the groundwork for a greater foundation for the fact that Blake may actually be grasping at straws to attempt to correct the wrongs of the world–and he realizes this.

The Bard makes the request to the Earth in what would appear to be a question, but the punctuation terminating the statement renders it a command–“Why wilt thou turn away/ The starry floor/ The watry shore/ Is given thee till the break of day.” The Earth then interprets this as a call from a “Father of ancient men/ Selfish father of men”–the commanding father of the Ten Commandments. Blake’s Bard makes a request to basically stop nature, to do something unnatural in order to halt what appears to be a paradoxical nature (“In a rich and fruitful land,/Babes reduced to misery”). Blake recognizes these unnatural instances and wishes to put an end to them–to erase the class boundaries and the frames that “does freeze…bones around/Selfish! vain!”

However this is where Blake begins to waiver, and I believe that he himself recognizes his inability as a man and a poet to reverse the natural order. Blake’s request–originally framed as a question–is left ambiguously due to what appears to be faulty punctuation. He, as a poet, is unable to produce the request that would stop the Earth, stop nature, and ultimately cure all of the problems (we think…Blake thinks). The last stanza of the Introduction is the most powerful, but Blake cannot muster up the poetic power to produce it fully and ultimately fails in his mission as the Ancient Bard.

It seems that only divine intervention will be able to reverse the natural order–to stop the Earth from turning. In one sense, I feel that Blake recognizes this and attempts to channel some form of power through the Poetic Genius, which comes from the Divine. But he ultimately fails because it is channeled through a mortal man. Blake sees this in his placement of the period as the closing punctuation mark to his statement: he recognizes his limits as a mortal being and sees that he is bound to the natural order; that being a creation of nature, he cannot rebel against what created him.