Response to William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience

INNOCENCE v EXPERIENCE 109 UWA 2012 William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience was combined in 1794. Having compiled Songs of Innocence in 1789, Blake intended that he was writing happy rhymes that all children may enjoy (Norton Anthology pg 118 footnote 1). Not all the poems reflect a happy stance, many incorporate injustice, evil and suffering. Blake represents these aspects of the world through the eyes of ‘innocence’. In contrary Blake’s Songs of Experience were written as ugly and terrifying versions of the same world.
These poems were used to reflect a ghastly representation of the world as one of poverty, disease and war. The Songs of Innocence were penned around the end of the American Revolution and the start of the French Revolution, although Blake would have worked on them for years prior. The Songs of Experience were etched during the middle and toward the end of the revolution and reflect how the poet’s view of the world had been affected and changed by the horrific events. Blake’s work is a compilation of a number of ‘songs’.
Although each can stand as an independent poem many from Songs of Innocence have a pair in Songs of Experience such as “Infant Joy” – “Infant Sorrow”, “The Lamb” – “The Tyger” and “The Ecchoing Green” – “The Earth’s Answer. ” Taking “Infant Joy,” from Songs of Innocence, it is told from the perspective of a baby “but two days old. ” The baby is perceived as happy and joyous through lines such as “joy is my name/Sweet joy befall thee! ” and plays on the common ideology that infants are happy and loveable.

Yet, its counterpart “Infant Sorrow,” from Songs of Experience, still told from the perspective of the new born, presents the harsh reality of child birth: “My mother groand! My father wept. /Into the dangerous world I leapt. ” The organisation of the work in this way presents two contrasting views of the world from the same perspective. I believe that the main problem that motivates Blake appears to be the comparison between childhood innocence and what we really experience in the world. The modern idea of wearing ‘rose tinted glasses’ springs to mind, in the sense that as a child we view the world as this magnificent, beautiful nd happy place but as we grow and learn more about ourselves and the world our experiences begin to taint that ‘innocent’ view and the world becomes ugly, harsh and cruel. The primary focus of Blake’s work is to create contrast between the fanciful, innocent view of the unjust, evil and suffering world and the harsh reality that suffering, war, poverty and disease really bring. These songs would have been read to children and it can be presumed that it was Blake’s attempt to teach them something about the world in which they were living through engaging their imaginations with his use of poetry.

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