Songs of innocence and experience

February 20, 2022 by Essay Writer

Songs of Innocence and Experience is a collection of poems by William Blake, published in 1789. Together, Blake explores ‘the two contrary states of the human soul,’ as he had put in the subtitle. Despite its simple images of children, flowers, animals, and an off-putting “happy” vibe, the Songs are troubling and reflect Blake’s deeply held personal and spiritual beliefs. These poems collocate the innocence of childhood against the world of adulthood, a world full of repression and corruption. Many of the Songs are written in pairs, thus the problems are seen in two different lenses: one through the innocence of childhood, and then the experience of adulthood.

Starting with Introduction, there are many possible interpretations of this poem. Considering that the Songs were written during the Industrial Revolution, and many children were subjected to abuse and child labor, it’s very possible that the child on the cloud is the piper’s muse, who helps him understand that he must be the voice of those who cannot speak for themselves: the deceased, the lower class, the children, and those more who were struggling due to the Industrial Revolution. The line “Piper sit thee down and write / In a book that all may read” suggests that the piper sat down and wrote about the impurities in the world; furthermore, the ambiguity of the last stanza “And I made a rural pen / And I stained the water clear” can easily be interpreted as the piper “spilling” kindness into the water, which is the impurities that treat children cruelly, until the water becomes clear. Staining the water clear is a paradox, as water should already initially be clear, however in this case, the water was full of impurities, and staining it clear with kindness makes sense. Moreover, the connotations of the adjective ‘clear’ further reinforces the idea of purity that the poet is trying to convey. In the final lines of the poem, “And I wrote my happy songs / Every child may joy to hear”, Blake wishes for a world that speaks only of purity and warmth, giving joy to children who are unable to speak for themselves and being their advocate.

Blake’s two The Chimney Sweeper poems are intriguing in a way that it gives the readers a sense of the two ‘contrary states’ Blake wanted to depict. in his collection. The speaker in Innocence is a young boy who was sold into the chimney sweeping business by his father as soon as his mother died. The word ‘weep’ rhymes with the word “sweep”, hence it can be surmised that the child was sold into the business before he was even old enough to talk. This fact adds up to the theory that the narrator was much too young to understand the situation he finds himself in, which further amplifies the daunting state innocence may bring about. The child in Innocence may have also heard the word “sweep” as “weep”, which also suggests that there is little difference in how children see things, as they do not understand the world they are living in yet. Blake portrays the chimney sweeper in Experience, now an adult, as someone who finally recognizes the position he was put in, and criticizes society for it. Blake once again plays around with the similar sounding “sweep” and “weep” (A little black thing among the snow: / Crying “‘weep, weep” in notes of woe!), possibly showing that the chimney sweeper, through experience and knowledge, acknowledges that his life was forced upon him and is now able to differentiate between sweep and weep.

The constant appearance and implications of the church may also have something to do with Blake’s belief that societal problems are linked to religious faith. In Innocence, he mentions that Tom Darce has a dream which eerily exposes the idea that suffering and misery in this life are rewarded by salvation and peace in the afterlife (“So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm”). However, in Experience, the speaker blames and directs his anger toward the church for forcing him to live a life he didn’t want and [the church] profiting from it. In the last line, the speaker says, “They think they have done me no injury: / And are gone to praise God and his Priest and King, Who make up a heaven of our misery”, implying that ‘heaven’ is built upon the suffering of others. The idea that peace is built upon misery is a tactic used by the church and those in power to manipulate those with little to no political influence.

Overall, William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience is a rather fascinating read that exposes the cruelties of the world that is inherently connected to spiritual problems. Although the modern world may not be as cruel as the past anymore, it still holds the idea that true happiness may only be found through pain and suffering.

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