Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience (Introduction)

 “Songs of Innocence” (1789) and “Songs of Experience” (1794) are the collection of poems published by William Blake respectively. The poet has chosen simple models for these songs, they are the hymns of Charles Wesley, the moral verse of Isaac Watts and other Non-conformists, but with important difference. Blake reverses the roles of the poet and the child and makes the child teach the poet.

Therefore, in ‘Songs of Innocence’, the child narrates the joys of life in nature while in ‘Songs of Experience’, the child is trapped in prisons of state and Church. 

About Songs of Innocence

The songs written to and about children which depicts the “contrary state human soul”. Songs of Innocence is a statement of the reaffirmation of the new Testament doctrine, as the little child can not hope to enter the kingdom of heaven. This is underscored by Blake’s use of pastoral Christian symbols i.e. the Christ child, the lamb, the shepherd etc.

One of the Literary writer Russel Noyes observes and said that the poet has left out all art, all moralizing, all pretending.

The theme of the poem is loss and finding runs through the songs and the gaiety and laughter of children fills them.

About Songs of Experience

Having experience hypocrisy and cruelty of the world personally, Blake was indignant in this “songs”. If Innocence is Heaven, Experience is Hell. Love and joy are suppressed by selfishness and by restrictions imposed by the priests.

The Garden of Love, the children’s laughter is silenced by adults; the children are exploited by an insensitive world (The Chimney Sweeper). The Church and the state, two pillars of society are indifferent. Sometimes they even connive, to cause suffering to children. Blake thought that these social evils were shameful.

As a poet he could speak out with indignation and compassion. Russel Noyes says, these songs reverberated the intensity of his feeling in brilliant denunciatory phrases, tight rhythms and searing imagery. The best of them are rarely to be matched elsewhere in Blake, or (for that matter) in their kind in anyone else.

Analysis about both the collections

Both the collections represent parallel situations, presenting two sides of the same coin. Holy Thursday and Nurse’s song are titles in the both the collections of songs, but the situations they described are totally different.

The shift from Innocence to Experience can also be seen in the change from ‘The Lamb’ to ‘The Tyger’, the blossoms to ‘The Sick Rose’, ‘The Piper to the Bard’, ‘The Divine Image’ to the human abstract.

The world of innocence is the world of childhood, and the childhood conveys suggestions of the Christ child. Whereas, the world of Experience is the adult world. It is urban and it is opposed to the natural world of childhood. The pure simple love of innocence becomes lust and depraved sexuality in the world of experience. In the Blake’s poetry there is generally a dominant symbolic pattern based on these two worlds. The child is good, and he represents the world of innocence. And the father who represents the world of evil.

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