Blake Poetry


Verily I say unto you, Whoseover shall not receive the
kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter
therein. [S Luke, 18 (17)]
The words are those of Jesus, who was neither unaware of
reality, nor indifferent to suffering. The childlike
innocence referred to above is a state of purity and not of
ignorance. Such is the vision of Blake in his childlike
Songs of Innocence. It would be foolish to suppose that the
author of ^ÑHoly Thursday^Ò and ^ÑThe Chimney Sweeper^Ò in
Songs of Innocence was insensible to the contemporary
social conditions of orphans or young sweeps, and that
therefore the poems of the same names in Songs of
Experience are somehow apologies or retractions of an
earlier misapprehension. For the language and style of
Songs of Innocence are so consistently naïve compared to
Songs of Experience, that it is clear that the earlier
poems are a deliberate attempt to capture the state of
grace described in the Biblical quotation above - a
celebration of the triumph of innocence in a world of
Often the words of the poem are spoken by a child. It would
be impossible to imagine a modern child using language such
Gave thee such a tender voice, Making all the vales rejoice.
and it is most unlikely that children spoke thus even in
Blake^Òs day. Yet this is the language of children^Òs
hymns. I was personally acquainted with all the words in
^ÑThe Lamb^Ò, through Sunday School hymns, long before
reaching school age. By using the vocabulary of the
hymnals, Blake emphasises for us the connection of which
the child is instinctively aware:
I, a child, and thou a lamb, We are called by his name.
The syntax and tone, however, have the authentic simplicity
of children^Òs speech. The first verse is a series of
questions addressed to the lamb. The second stanza begins
with the child^Òs triumph at being able to answer those
Little Lamb, I^Òll tell thee.
Typically the questions are asked purely for the
satisfaction it gives the child in answering. There is a
great deal of repetition in all the songs: in ^ÑThe Lamb^Ò
this takes the form of a refrain repeated at the beginning
and the end of each stanza, once more reminiscent of
children^Òs hymns. In contrast, ^ÑThe Tyger^Ò has an
incantatory rhythm, far more like a pagan chant than a
childish hymn. And the vocabulary is no longer within the
understanding of a child:
What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
This song also asks questions. But in the world of
experience, unlike the world of innocence, there are no
longer any reassuring answers. The world of Innocence is a
world of confident answers; in Experience the answers
remain. Indeed, the questions themselves become more
threatening. The slightly incredulous question above alters
subtly during the progress of the poem until the word
^ÑCould^Ò is finally replaced by the far more menacing
^ÑDare^Ò. There is no such progression in Songs of
Innocence. Each song captures the ^Ñmoment in each day that
Satan cannot find^Ò [Milton, II, Pl.35, 1.42]. Blake^Òs
innocence does not develop: it exists.
If we compare Songs of Innocence with Songs of Experience
we see that this pattern is constantly repeated. The moment
that the concept of Experience is introduced the simplicity
of the language disappears. As affirmation gives way to
doubt, the unquestioning faith of innocence becomes the
intellectual argument of experience. In ^ÑInfant Joy^Ò the
baby is free even of the bonds of a name. In ^ÑCradle
Song^Ò it is the mother who speaks, not with the simplicity
of ^ÑInfant Joy^Ò yet with a naivete emphasised by the
repetition of key alliterative words - sweet/sleep/smile -
with their connotations of joy. In Songs of Innocence moans
are ^Ñsweet^Ò and ^Ñdovelike^Ò [Cradle song] whereas in
Songs of Experience the babies cry in ^Ñfear^Ò [London}.
In Songs of Innocence the narrative is as simple as the
direct speech. The verbs are straightforward and
unambiguous; God ^Ñappeared^Ò , He ^Ñkissed^Ò the child,
^Ñled^Ò him to his mother. And although the bleaker side of
life is portrayed - poverty and discrimination for example
- the overall vision is positive.
1. Blake believed that without contraries there could be no
progression. In Songs of Experience we see Blake ^Ñwalking
naked^Ò, to use Yeats^Ò phrase, as he shouts angrily
against social evils and religious manacles and hypocrisy.
Songs of Innocence are far more carefully controlled, for
all their apparent artlessness. In Songs of Innocence
Blake^Òs voice never falters: the language is consistently
naïve, and when images of a less childlike nature do
intrude they are always absorbed into the security that is
innocence. Innocence is a state of faith that must preclude
doubt. Blake^Òs language is naïve and unambiguous. It is
deliberately adopted to suit the subject and discarded
later in the prophetic books. He may have considered
experience as a necessary part of life, but Blake remained,
supremely, a poet of Innocence.


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