Songs of Innocence and Experience
Songs of Innocence, William Blake’s second collection of poetry, was published in 1789. He published it with illustrated plates of his own design, a feat he accomplished by an engraving and illustrating method of his own conception. Blake’s series of Illuminated Books began with the publishing of Songs of Innocence, in which he blended text and visual artwork to accomplish his poetic effect. Blake always wanted the poetry in Songs of Innocence to be accompanied by images, making textual interpretation difficult at times.
Songs of Innocence, while apparently about the naivety and simplicity of youth, is more than just a compilation of verses for children. Several of the poems have a satirical tone, and some, like ‘The Chimney Sweeper,’ indicate harsh criticism of Blake’s time. Songs of Innocence is plainly intended as a celebration of children and their unfettered love of the world around them, but it is also a warning to adult readers. Innocence has been lost not only as a result of ageing, but also because cultural forces have permitted a hope-crushing society to flourish, often at the direct expense of children’s souls.
Songs of Experience was released five years later, bundled with a reprint and modest revision of Songs of Experience.
Innocence. Songs of Experience was never published independently from the previous volume, and Blake intended it to be a companion piece to the earlier work. Songs of Experience use the same method of etching plates to illustrate the poetry.
Blake is able to be more forthright in his criticism of society in Songs of Experience. With equal ferocity, he criticises church leaders, wealthy socialites, and terrible parents. Blake also utilises Songs of Experience to expand on his own personal religious system, which was depicted as essentially traditional in Songs of Innocence. Blake challenges how we know God exists, if a God who permits poor children to suffer and be exploited is good, and whether love can exist as an abstract concept divorced from human connection in Songs of Experience. In this volume, Blake also hints at his belief in free love, implying that he would like to abolish the institution of marriage, as well as all other artificial limits on human freedom.
Interdependent poems can be found in both Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. It is impossible to read The Lamb critically without also reading the Introduction, The Shepherd, and Night from Songs of Innocence. Its significance is enhanced by reading ‘The Tyger’ from Songs of Experience, and vice versa.
Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, taken as a whole, offer a romanticised yet carefully considered view of nature, God, society, and religion from a variety of perspectives, ultimately demanding that the reader choose the view he or she finds most compelling from among the poems’ myriad voices.
Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794) contrast the innocent, pastoral world of youth with an adult world of corruption and repression; while lyrics like as “The Lamb” represent a gentle virtue, poems such as “The Tyger” demonstrate contrasting, darker impulses. As a result, the collection as a whole investigates the worth and limitations of two opposing worldviews. Many of the poems are written in pairs, such that the same scenario or problem is perceived first through the lens of innocence and subsequently through the lens of experience. Blake does not connect entirely with either point of view; the majority of his poems are dramatic—that is, written in the voice of someone other than the poet himself. Blake stands outside of both innocence and experience, in a detached position from which he wants to evaluate and remedy each’s flaws. He specifically opposes autocratic power, restrictive morality, sexual repression, and organised religion; his profound insight is into how these various systems of control interact to suppress what is most holy in human beings.
The Songs of Innocence highlight the child’s innocent hopes and worries, as well as their transition as the kid develops into adulthood. Some of the poems are written from the perspective of youngsters, while others are written from the perspective of adults. Many of the poems highlight the wonderful features of natural human comprehension prior to the corruption and distortion of experience. Others are more critical of innocent purity: for example, while Blake paints poignant depictions of the emotional power of primitive Christian beliefs, he also exposes—over the heads of the innocent, as it were—penchant Christianity’s for supporting injustice and brutality.
The Songs of Experience use parallels and contrasts to lament how adult life’s harsh experiences destroy what is good in innocence, while also articulating the weaknesses of the innocent perspective (The Tyger, for example, attempts to account for real, negative forces in the universe that innocence fails to confront). These final poems address sexual morality through the restrictive influences of envy, shame, and secrecy, all of which ruin the innocent love’s ingenuity. In terms of religion, they are less concerned with the nature of individual faith and more concerned with the Church as an institution, its role in politics, and its influence on society and the human mind. As a result, experience adds a layer to innocence, darkening its hopeful vision while compensating for some of its blindness.
The Songs of Innocence and Experience have a basic and direct style, but the language and rhythms are meticulously created, and the topics they address are frequently surprisingly deep. Many of the poems are narrative in nature, but others, such as The Sick Rose and The Divine Image, make their points through symbolism or abstract themes. Personification and the repurposing of Biblical symbolism and language are two of Blake’s favourite argumentative strategies. Blake regularly borrows the familiar metres of ballads, nursery rhymes, and hymns, adapting them to his own, often unconventional, ideas. This juxtaposition of the familiar and the strange is consistent with Blake’s ongoing interest in rethinking and reframing the assumptions of human intellect and social interaction.