Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience

27th April 2023

By Sharmini Jayawardena

William Blake, (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827), is my most favourite of  all poets, and easily one of my favourite of all people. The reason I became so enamoured of him is due purely to the dichotomy in which he sees the world and how he puts it across to us.

Blake had seen way ahead, what the American Founders themselves realised and acted upon in the forming of The U. S. Constitution, the knowledge that humans by nature are fundamentally flawed. Hence, Blake’s dichotomy of human nature as given in his songs of innocence and of experience.

The Lamb and Tyger, Ah, Sun Flower and A Poison Tree  and,

 “The volume’s “Contrary States” are sometimes signalled by patently repeated or contrasted titles: in Innocence, Infant Joy, in Experience, Infant Sorrow; in Innocence, The Lamb, in Experience, The Fly and The Tyger. The stark simplicity of poems such as The Chimney Sweeper and The Little Black Boy display Blake’s acute sensibility to the realities of poverty and exploitation that accompanied the “Dark Satanic Mills” of the Industrial Revolution.[3]” 

  • Wikipedia 

Ah! Sun-flower

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time, 
Who countest the steps of the Sun: 
Seeking after that sweet golden clime 
Where the travellers journey is done. 

Where the Youth pined away with desire, 
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow: 
Arise from their graves and aspire, 
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

The Lamb

Little Lamb who made thee 
 Dost thou know who made thee 
Gave thee life & bid thee feed. 
By the stream & o’er the mead; 
Gave thee clothing of delight, 
Softest clothing wooly bright; 
Gave thee such a tender voice, 
Making all the vales rejoice! 
Little Lamb who made thee 
Dost thou know who made thee 

          Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!
He is called by thy name, 
For he calls himself a Lamb: 
He is meek & he is mild, 
He became a little child: 
I a child & thou a lamb, 
We are called by his name. 

         Little Lamb God bless thee. 
Little Lamb God bless thee.

The Tyger  Launch Audio in a New Window

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies. 
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat.
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears 
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

These poems are possibly the best examples of Blake’s revelations of the very energies that govern the universal powers. They are the very strength by which this world is governed, the energies that move the world. They are placed between good and bad, the evil and the blessed, the strong and the weak all energies that are carefully juxtaposed in his work, as it appears in Nature itself.

What is Blake trying to say to us ? What is he trying to convey ? Possibly, that the world wouldn’t be as well balanced unless it was pivoted on these polar opposites. We can seek the balance in the median of how we must steer our lives. Blake draws his imagery from Nature itself to bring to light the darkness and brightness even of night and day as the world moves ahead revealing the innocence and harshness of existence.

This universal truth is the undeniable reality that powers his poetry, while most of the Romantic poets, of his time, romanticised Nature, Blake was defiant and was a dissident in his use of words, imagery and rhythm that complimented his choice of subject matter. He was not going to give you this comfortable position where you could cosily settle into. He pulled you out of your complacency and placed you full frontal with reality. He makes you look straight in the face of stark reality, up close and personal.

In this way, Blake hopes to make you act on what he puts in front of you. You are not even allowed to read and forget. You read and it keeps gnawing at your mind and your heart. With time and in time, you act !!! You become that defiant dissident who rallies forth to put things gone radically wrong, to right ! Blake gives you the support system, the launching pad, if you will, to propel you into action that changes the status quo.

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