Songs of Innocence and Song of Experience Analysis
William Blake lived from 1757 – 1827 in London. He was primarily an engraver then painter until later writing his famous poems. In his childhood he was educated at home although he later attended a drawing school, Henry Pars’ and was an autodidact. Blake also claimed to have visions, most notably a vision when he saw and conversed with the Virgin Mary and the Angel Gabriel. In 1779, Blake became a student at the Royal Academy in Old Somerset House. His studies required no payment but he was expected to supply his own materials throughout the six years he would stay.
He married in 1783 to Catherine Boucher, based solely on love and to this day is defined as a romantic poet. He was Associated with the Romantics because he had similar ideas that the imagination was very important. Byron, Shelly and Coleridge believed that the imagination was important – much more then rational thought. They were all against industrialisation of the countryside. The Romantics were an artistic movement which started in the 1770s through the Industrialisation of Europe continuing into the early Victorian period. They were classed here because of certain shared beliefs.
The Romantics disliked the effects of the Industrial revolution. They lived during the civil war of America and the French revolution, due to the sudden questioning in the role of Monarchy and Church. William Blake produced poems, most notably the two companion poems of Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. One of his beliefs was that innocence is something good and generally saw experience as a bad thing. Evidence shows from his poems that he detested the expansion of industrialisation and very much liked the countryside as well as his deep religious attitude.
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Songs of Innocence and Experience was written in 1790. The main theme Blake stressed was that a child remains innocent in his or her youth. The songs of Innocence are written in a child’s point of view. They still strive strong even though there is evil around them. Blake felt as you grew older you lost that innocence as you gained more experience. The songs of Experience are written in an experienced point of view, which had realised the true evil around him or her and hated it. The first two examples are the lamb from Songs of innocence and the Tyger from songs of experience.
Firstly, the lamb consists of two stanzas with five rhyming couplets. The Lamb is about innocence and Blake utilises the symbolism of a child to emphasize the theme. “He is meek & he is mild”. A lamb is a small, timid and weak animal and can portray innocence and peacefulness, properties we can associate with a child. It may also have deeper meaning, such as the Lamb of God. It was Jesus who became known as the Lamb of God because as the Jewish faith believes, sacrificing a lamb would take away your sins.
The Christians saw Jesus as acting like a lamb so he could take away everyone’s sins after becoming crucified, an image which shows self-sacrifice and innocence. Blake, who has a passion for religion gives praise to God for creation of a creature like the Lamb. The alliteration of “Little Lamb” gives the effect of softening the tone and adding to the imagery of innocence and possibly Blake tried to make the Lamb seem like a Nursery Rhyme, which portrays the poem being narrated by a child, therefore linking back to the theme of innocence.
In the Tyger, the poem consists of six stanza’s, with two rhyming couplets in each stanza. The Tyger is about experience and Blake utilises this using industrial and colour imagery like in the fourth stanza such as “what the hammer” or in the first stanza “forests of the night”. The Tyger needs experience to survive, as it needs to kill to live. Blake is questioning God “What immortal hand or eye, / could frame thy fearful symmetry” to why God would want to make animals like tigers, such as mankind. This is one of Blake’s rhetorical questions throughout the poem.
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The “immortal hand” refers to the power of God to create. The “fearful symmetry” refers to the complexity in the tyger by the divine artistry, almost being so perfect as to be fearful to understand. Blake saw the Tyger as a very intricate animal, asking how God created it, “In what furnace was thy brain / What the anvil,”. The comparisons between the two is that the Lamb has pastoral imagery, such as language, “Vale”, “mead”, “stream”, This helps the reader picture a pastoral scene. This was the ideal life of William Blake, evidence for his want for the time before the industrial revolution.
The Tyger has industrial imagery, “furnace”, “hammer”, “anvil”, to show how the Tyger is made as if it were in a factory. This imagery shows a pessimistic view of the Tyger. Blake does this because of his hate of industrialisation and saw it as an impurity to the countryside. In the penultimate stanza of the Tyger, Blake quotes Genesis, “Did he smile his work to see”. Blake is talking about the sixth day of creation when God had finally stopped and looked at his work, and saw it was good and rested on the seventh day.
But then Blake adds “Did he who made the Lamb make thee! ” Blake gives this rhetorical question to state whether the same God made the “little lamb” also made the “Tyger”. Here Blake questions the omniscience of God. If God is kind and all knowing shouldn’t he have known evil and suffering would exist due to the creation of creatures like the Tyger. In general, Blake examines two separate animals, the Lamb and the Tyger which express his feelings on ideas about creation and the creator.
Blake appreciates an innocent creature like the Lamb and is awe-struck by the complexity of the Tyger but is asking why God would make a Tyger with properties like having to kill in order to survive. Blake sees innocence as something good because as age your experience in the world increases. People see the sinister side of the world; therefore Blake would have seen ignorance as bliss. The next poems I will be analysing are The Chimney sweeper from Songs of innocence and The Chimney sweeper from Songs of Experience. The Songs of innocence version was written in 1789.
Blake saw around him the child cruelty and shows this through his poem. “When my mother died I was very young,” from the first stanza immediately shows Blake’s choice to make the poem in a child’s perspective thus increasing the empathy, which he has tried to do repeatedly “in soot I sleep” to show the reader the bad life of poor children. Yet they continue to strive as best they can and treat each other well compared to the adults. “soot cannot spoil your white hair”, from the second stanza is about another child trying to comfort another child.
In the penultimate line in the First stanza, “Could scarcely cry ” ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ” ” is the child’s attempt to say “sweep! , sweep! “, which was the common street cry of chimney sweepers. It shows the child is very young and cannot even talk properly, adding to his innocence. Also this poem shows that the children have a very optimistic attitude on life, they try to make the greatest of what they have and do not fear death. This can be shown through a religious theme. When “the Angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy, He’d have God for his father & never want joy”.
Here Blake is showing that the children will live happily for eternity if they followed God’s rules. Blake therefore believes the innocence of the children is what keeps them believing they’ll have a better life after this wretched one because their innocent minds were easy to manipulate with the guarantee of an afterlife. The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of experience was written in 1794. The Chimney sweeper show evidence of his former innocence and is the same chimney sweeper from songs of innocence but matured and grown to realise the real world around him.
Now, the Chimney sweeper blames his parents for the life he was put in, the first stanza say’s, “Where are thy father & mother”. He is miserable in his position “notes of woe” and also blames “God & his Priest & King”. Blake purposefully made this child’s perspective different from the companion poem to show the chimney sweeper has been influenced by society and therefore has an experienced point of view. Through the child’s experience, Blake has portrayed the child detesting religion. In the first stanza the child speaks out for his parents, but he knows “They are both gone up to the church to pray. The child is angry that the people who follow God are the same people who “taught me to sing the notes of woe. ”
The child is bitter towards his life and believes he has been done wrong by the adults and believes they find joy in their misery “Who make up a heaven of our misery”. Blake has done this because of the controversy around the role of the church and monarchy and is an indication of someone who is experienced to question the role of church and monarchy. The Comparisons between the two is that they both contain metaphors prophesizing a most likely death.
The Songs of innocence also has dark colour imagery inside the metaphor, “Were all of them lock’d up in coffins of black. ” The “black” being themselves covered in soot and “lock’d” inside the chimneys, as was a lot of boys misfortunes. The Songs of experience shows the child knowing what his parents have done to him and is aware of a possible death. “They clothed me in the clothes of death”. The metaphor also shows that he was “clothed” from the real world during his younger years of innocence, meaning he felt he was living a lie.
Further colour imagery is used in the songs of innocence such as, “cannot spoil your white hair”, white symbolising something pure as well as in the fourth stanza when the children “naked and white”, go and “wash in a river, and shine in the sun”. Here Blake uses pastoral imagery to make the countryside seem like a heaven and uses more themes of religion linking “naked and white” to Adam and Eve, where they “wash in a river, and shine in the sun”, this being the Garden of Eden. Blake is using the innocence and naivety of Adam of Eve to link this with the Children.
The colour imagery in the chimney sweeper from Songs of experience relates to darkness in a “black thing among the snow. ” This meaning the soot covered child is an oddity among everyone else. Blake stresses that he is all alone among the world and tries to win the readers sympathy. Using the word “snow”, Blake has used the snows property of being cold to portray society’s ill attitude to life. In general, Blake has tried to expose the churches twists of their religion to benefit themselves. Blake has used the chimney sweepers as evidence of this.
They were taught that if they do their “duty they not fear harm. ” And as the innocent children they believed blindly until gradual experience revealed that is was the church that “taught me to sing the notes of woe. ” Most children were brought into chimney sweeping when they reached 5 and continued that life until their size grew too big to fit inside. Many died from becoming trapped, getting tuberculosis, asthma and testicular cancer. William Blake lived in London his whole life and wrote the poem London for Songs of experience.
London was written in 1794, in the aftermath of the French Revolution. This was a time of great political conflict in Britain. It exposes the distance in classes between those in power and the poor. In the second stanza, “mind-forg’d manacles”, this metaphor contains a deeper meaning then at first glance. The “mind-forged” relates back to the tyger’s meaning of being created as if it were a machine. “manacles” are chains to the arms, which is being used to say London was a like a prison.
The powerful minority had imposed their laws and removed freedom of the majority. We see this as how the powerful people were granted charters to control the streets of London and the river. Blake is obviously displeased that the streets are “chartered” but more obviously for the “Chartered Thames”, which shouldn’t be controlled by laws. This is evidence for his views on the removal of freedom. Blake writes the “weakness” and the “woe” has appeared “in every face” to show the misery to try and make the audience feel sympathy for the poor.
The repetition of “marks” and “every” reveals the extreme anxiety which “marks” of misery show up in “every Man” and “every Infants” faces which inform us that the Londoners are weakened in mind, body and spirit by the imposing of laws and “chartered streets”. Blake has utilised this to increase the audience’s sympathy. Another main point with deeper meaning is in the third stanza, where Blake utilises imagery of religion and destruction as a paradox. He is implying the fall of religion such as the religious imagery of the “black’ning church” which represents the loss of innocence and the society’s desertion of faith.
The “chimney-sweeper’s cry” symbolises trying to clean the soot that covers society and clean what causes their misery. But the “black’ning church” can also be blackened metaphorically with the shame of not helping the poor with the use of their power. There is also a pun as “appals” means to become pale, as with fear, but the churches are becoming metaphorically black, with soot. Still in the third stanza, the “hapless soldiers sigh” is about the aftermath of the French revolution when soldiers were drafted into war, unwilling or willing.
Blake uses the imagery of destruction “Runs in blood down palace walls” to explain why the society is forced to mend their “weakness” and “woe” so an uprising will not occur in London. The last stanza reveals Blake’s feelings that the next generation will be affected by his generation, “youthful harlot’s curse” symbolises the youth’s bad deeds will cause the “newborn infant’s tear” which means the new generation will have to deal with the previous generations problems. This shows how old generations make mistakes for the new such as the current generation creating global warming, which the next generation must deal with.
The language in the final stanza such as “plagues” also symbolises the “curse”. The “marriage hearse” symbolises eternity with death, an oxymoron. This makes the effect of showing life is not without death, in every life there is a final misery, death. William Blake wrote Holy Thursday in songs of innocence in 1789. Holy Thursday describes the church’s festival to commemorate the ascension of Jesus which takes place thirty-nine days after Easter. On the Thursday, children from the charity schools across London went on a march to attend a service at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Beadles were lower ranking church members who kept the order of the children as they arrived. The Songs of innocence version of Holy Thursday consists of three quatrains each with two rhyming couplets. The first stanza brings the life to the poem with use of colour imagery “red, blue and green” to emphasize the children’s delight. Blake uses “innocent faces clean” to once again stress how simple and innocent children are. They are “clean” because they have not yet acquired experience, which Blake saw experience as something bad.
The Beadles are “Grey headed”, revealing them as possibly old aged. Blake also describes them as “wise guardians” perhaps because of the knowledge they have acquired till their old age. This is peculiar because the main attitude of Blake was that experience was something bad. It may be that Blake writes this because he is pleased that the children are brought up with a good religious attitude by the church. In the last stanza the children sing above the “aged men”, more evidence of the beadle’s old age and a way to show their experience.
Blake may have done this because he believed the Beadles were not “wise” or bothered to be “guardians” of the children because they cared not for them, another link to show experience as something bad. In the last line of the last stanza, “Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door” is a reference to Hebrews 13:2, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. ” This is God telling people to be good to our fellow man as you don’t know who they are. This portrays the children as angelic to the reader.
Also the sentences of the poem lengthen across the page. This can represent the long marching line of the children towards the church. The Songs of experience version was written in 1794. It is about the same event from the Songs of innocence but the manner is more disheartening. The poem consists of four quatrains and Blake has removed the effect of lengthening the sentences. Pastoral imagery is evident that the children are in a “rich and fruitful land”. Blake has done this because of the beauty of the actual church itself but he then stresses they are still “reduced to misery”.
This is a reflection to the sour attitude of life expressed in the poem London. Blake is furthermore disapproved of the powerful taking advantage of the poor. Blake furthermore criticises the integrity of the church by writing that the children are “Fed with cold and usurous hand. ” This means that the church has no concern of the children as is only interested in continuing the ceremony so it will benefit the church as “usurous” meant to lend money for a profit. Blake has also written deeper parts including “And their ways are fill’d with thorns”, from the third stanza.
Blake has used religious imagery to suggest the children’s lives will be full of adversity just as Jesus did. The “thorns” give a reminder to Jesus being flogged along with the crown of thorns. This was the hardship Jesus endured but after being crucified he ascended straight to heaven. Blake is saying the children will endure hardship like this but when the die they will go straight to heaven. Comparisons between the two are that in the last line of the third stanza of the Songs of Experience version, “It is eternal winter there,” describes how the children see the ceremony from the experienced point of view.
This is different from Holy Thursdays of the Songs of innocence. The last stanza of the Songs of Experience version links to the “winter” by saying that when the sun shines and the rain doesn’t fall, there “can never hunger there” and “Nor poverty”. But in winter the sun does not shine and rain does fall, so therefore Blake is saying there is hunger and there is poverty. The Songs of innocence version portrays the children as “flowers of London town”, this gives a good mood of the imagery for the children.
But The Songs of Experience version opposes this mood as “their fields are bleak & bare” which both quotes touch on pastoral imagery. The experience of the children has lead them to become miserable as the adults and are “bleak and bare” physically and mentally. In general, Holy Thursday is meant to be a joyous occasion as Blake writes about the children in Songs of innocence but the exploitation by the powerful minority has demoralised the poor majority and this foul mood on such an occasion is shown in Holy Thursday from Songs of Experience.
William Blake died in 1827. Blake wrote Songs of Innocence and Experience to show the world the bad deeds that society had created, expanding on matters he felt important like religion and morality, child labour and cruelty. It is true that Songs of Innocence and Songs of experience are very complex and Blake has done a good job of helping the reader understand the complexity by using his powerful use of imagery and language and William Blake has definitely expressed his beliefs well though his poems.