Perfectly Poetic Essay, Research Paper
Perfectly Poetic T.S. Eliot once said of Blake’s writings, “The Songs ofInnocence and the Songs of Experience, and the poems fromthe Rossetti manuscripts, are the poems of a man with aprofound interest in human emotions, and a profoundknowledge of them.” (Grant, Pg 507) These two famous booksof poetry written by William Blake, not only show men’semotions and feelings, but explain within themselves, thechild’s innocence, and man’s experience. A little over twocenturies ago, William Blake introduced to the Englishliterary world his two most famous books of poetry: theSongs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience. In his ownday, he was widely believed to be “quite mad,” though thosewho knew him best thought otherwise. Today, few of us takeBlake’s madness seriously, either because we don’t believein it or because it no longer matters. Blake’s fundamentalconcepts speak mainly about the human condition and emotion;and within the realms of this paper, I would like topersuade my readers that William Blake uses simple languageand metaphors to show the two contrary states of the humansoul – innocence and experience. The world of innocence is a child’s world, and it ispreserved in the minds of full-grown children by projectingthe memory or desire for parental protection on to a higherrealm. The lambs with their “innocent calls”, the orphansand children with their “innocent faces”, are simple andpure in that they have done no harm; but they are alsoinnocent in that nothing challenges their faith. They arenaive and vulnerable to the conspiracy of the experiencedworld, and yet superior to it in their blessed simplicity.The world of experience is a different world then the one ofinnocence. Northrop Frye once said of the experience world;”The world of experience is the world that adults live inwhile they are awake. It is a very big world, and a lot ofit seems to be dead, but still it makes its own kind ofsense… the changes that occur in the world of experienceare, on the whole. orderly and predictable changes.” (Grant,Pg 510) However, the adults were also once children, and inchildhood, happiness differs from those of the full-grown. As a child, happiness is based not on law and reason, but onlove, protection, and peace. As an adult, however, one mustfollow the rules of law and order. Frye also said this ofthe experienced world; “As adults, the law and order is thebasis both of reason and society, without it there is nohappiness.” (Grant, Pg 510) “The Songs of Innocence does not seem to be songs onlyabout innocence, but by innocence.” (Ferber, Pg 2) This canbe seen clearly within the “Introduction” section to theSongs of Innocence. The songs are ‘of’ innocence in the waythe Piper’s songs are ’songs of pleasant glee’ and ‘happychear’. They are of the world of innocence too, becausetheir internal audience consists of innocents. Forinstance, when the child makes demands, the Piper casuallyand innocently responds – four demands followed by fourresponses: Pipe a song about a Lamb; So I piped with merry chear.The child, then, innocently, requested to hear the songagain, but this time he ‘wept to hear.’ With the exampleabove, one may suspect that the Songs of Innocence is’really’ aimed at sophisticated adults, but the reader maybe ‘really’ a child anyway; therefore, it is safe to saythat, as simple as it may seem, one should take seriouslythe Piper’s story that the Book of Innocence owes itsexistence to the demands of a child, even if he is animaginary one. It is also say to say then, that in order tofully understand and appreciate all the songs that follow,one must comprehend the meanings hidden within the”Introduction”. The “Introduction” points the readers towards thepastoral world and the pastoral idea to follow in the nextcouple of songs. The reader can tell this by looking atBlake’s usage of props and themes of the classical pastoraltradition; such as the pipe and the hollow reed, the sweetlot of the shepherd and the pleasant sounds of nature. Blake uses a fairly clever conceit in the last stanza tohave the Piper manufacture a ‘rural pen’ out of a hollowreed, rather then to pluck one from a bird, for it is aroutine pastoral fact that pipes are made of hollow reeds;the pen, then, is thus a transformed pipe. And I made a rural pen, And I stain’d the water clear, And I wrote my happy songs, Every child may joy to hear.’Clear’ suggests ‘innocent’ and to stain clear water is symbolically to corrupt innocence, water being as clear and fluid as the air or cloud which are home to the child. Yet’stain’d’ in one context may have moral connotations, whilein another it may not. For instance, in church, one is nottroubled by the thought of stained-glass windows? This isone example of Blake’s ambiguities. “Blake is filled withsecondary and tertiary counter-meanings that lurk likequicksand or trapdoors underfoot, and an innocent reader ofBlake must learn from experience to tread tiptoe through theprimary level (which turns out not to be primary after all)and to leap and dance along all the others.” (Ferber, Pg 5)Another example of this ‘allegedly ambiguity’ is within thefirst stanza of “The Shepherd”: How sweet is the Shepherds sweet lot, From the morn to the evening he strays.The shepherd, who should be looking for stray sheep, hasgone astray himself. This subversive thought breeds others:is he a wolf in shepherd’s clothing? Why, then, does Blakethrow such ambiguity at his readers? To explain his beliefthat there are two contrary states of the man’s soul byrelating it with the idea of the astray shepherd, perhaps? More important than classical pastoral in the Songs ofInnocence is Christian pastoral. “The tradition that Jesusis the Good Shepherd and Christians are his flock is sofamiliar that we scarcely notice a metaphor in the ‘pastor’of a ‘congregation’, or an emblem in the bishop’s crozier orcrook.” (Ferber, Pg 7) Blake brings it to the readersattention in the last stanza of “The Shepherd”: He is watchful while they [the sheep] are in peace, For they know when their Shepherd is nigh.The poem would still make perfect sense even if there wereno “Good Shepherd” tradition; but by placing “Shepherd’ atthe end, Blake subtly evokes the thought that there may beanother, ‘divine’ Shepherd nigh and that the second ‘they’includes the mortal shepherd with his sheep. This thoughtclarifies the last line of the first stanza – “And histongue shall be filled with praise” – for readers may havewondered whom he is praising. His sheep? No, he ispraising the Good Shepherd, or Whoever it is that unitesewes and lambs and brings peace to the flock. “Even more central to Christian tradition is theinverse metaphor that Jesus is the Lamb of God; an innocentlamb ‘without blemish’, acceptable to God as a sacrifice forman’s sins. The identification of Jesus as Lamb isconnected to the Incarnation and the Nativity, the arrival
of the ‘divine’ among us not only in human form but as ababy, born among common people and common animals.” (Ferber,Pg 7) Therefore, the child who asks the lamb ‘who made thee’(in “The Lamb”) answers his own question and tells how thethree of them – lamb, child, and Jesus – are all connected: 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.”Jesus grew to be a man and made the supreme sacrifice athis crucifixion – that is why he is called the lamb – and bydoing so, embraced man again in their sorrows and death aswell as their joys and life.” (Bloom, Pg 44) An example ofthis can be found in the poem “On Anothers Sorrow” as thespeaker gives the readers both aspects: He doth give his joy to all. He becomes an infant small. He becomes a man of woe He doth feel the sorrow too. . . . . . O! he gives to us his joy, That our grief he may destroy Till our grief is fled & gone He doth sit by us and moan.With the above example, one can assume that there is a greatdeal of sorrow within Blake’s ‘world of innocence’; for mostof the tears shed are not tears of joy. For instance then,the last stanza in “The Little Boy Lost”: The night was dark, no father was there. The child was wet with dew. The mire was deep, & the child did weepThe tears mentioned were hardly those of joy; they weretears of a child without his father – tears of sorrow. Another prime example can be found within the mother’s”Cradle Song”. This entire poem, more or less, tells ofunaccountable tears: Sleep sleep happy child. All creation slept and smil’d. Sleep sleep, happy sleep, While o’er thee thy mother weep. Sweet babe in thy face, Holy image I can trace. Sweet babe once like thee, Thy maker lay and wept for me, Wept for me, for thee, for all, When he was an infant small. . . . . . . We can see from these few poems that humans are verysusceptible to pity, to tears; this then, is what Blake tookinto consideration when writing his poetry. He widened theworld of innocence to embrace the ultimate in suffering; buthe also kept it ‘innocent’, and rather obviously so. Theexamples for this are found in the latter poems in the Bookof Innocence: “Holy Thursday”, “The Divine Image”, and “ADream”. These poems explain that “where mutual concern andlove break down, angels intervene and escorts the victim toa world where the broken knots of love and pity are re-knitfor ever.” (Ferber, Pg 9) Innocence is primary and self-sufficient, butexperience steals in or pounces upon unwary innocence inman’s unhappy world. For Blake, however, experience is afallen state. A writer once said of this, “Experience isthe ‘lapsed Soul’ that is addressed in the ‘Introduction’ toExperience … It is in no way higher than innocence, and itis not clear if it is even a necessary phase or passage…”(Rossetti, Pg 19) As with the Book of Innocence, there is asinger in the introduction section. However, unlike thefirst book, The Bard does not ‘introduce’ the readers to hisworld in the same manner as the Piper did in the Book ofInnocence. One main thing the reader must notice is thatthe “introduction” or that the Bard’s poem has a reply,”Earth’s Answer”; this then, reveals the rough ground onwhich the Bard’s appeal falls upon. The amount of distancethe readers have travelled can be seen in the fact thatthere are two speakers as opposed to the one speaker in theBook of Innocence. Another problem the reader encounters isthe difficulty of the poem. The structure and the syntax ofBlake’s writing is much harder and sophisticated in the Bookof Experience than in Innocence. Even with the difficultpunctuation and syntax Blake uses, the general purport ofthe “introduction” shows itself to the readers on the firstreading; the Bard, like a biblical prophet, calls on theworld to leave its darkness and return to its former stateof light: Hear the voice of the Bard! Who Present, Past, & Future sees, Whose ears have heard The Holy Word, That walk’d among the ancient trees. Calling the lapsed Soul And weeping in the evening dew: That might control The starry pole And fallen fallen light renew!”It is best to take ‘The Holy Word’, then, as calling to’the lapsed Soul’…” one critic explained. (Ferber, Pg 22) Taken this into consideration then, the reader can see thatit is neither a man, nor animal, or sun, nor star that theBard is addressing; it is the earth itself. O Earth O Earth return! Arise from out the dewy grass; Night is worn, And the morn Rises from the slumberous mass. Turn away no more: Why wilt thou turn away . . . . . .One can clearly see that these two stanzas parallel eitherthe creation in book Genesis or the addressing of un-receptive souls of Israel by Jeremiah in book Jeremiah ofthe Bible. “Blake, in the introduction to Experience, givesus a set of mixed metaphors, but the metaphors havesubterranean connections among themselves and therefore theyare brilliantly mixed and hidden.” (Bloom, Pg 46) Theending to the introduction is a quiet one, but very powerfulin itself. The starry floor The watry shore Is giv’n thee till the break of day.If the starry pole really is a floor, then the place whereEarth “should” rise and walk is above the stars, the placewhere the “Holy Word” reigns. Now then, if Earth sees thestars from “beneath”, she is either upside down, or fallen,or perhaps even both. The watry shore, which is the earth’slimit, is in a way, symbolizing the starry floor; and thewatery shores are given to Earth by providence to sustainher until morning. In the last stanza, however, Earthfinally sees herself as a victim of another, so she has butone choice, and that is to call upon the Father (or thevoice she takes to be the Father) to “Break this heavy chain, That does freeze my bones around Selfish! vain! Eternal bane! That free Love with bondage bound.”One can see that in the last stanza, the Earth is calling toGod to liberate her, rather than freeing herself. Blake did not believe that all human woes are self-induced. “The Chimney Sweeper” and “Little Black Boy” do noafflict themselves. But, as states, innocence andexperience are subject to one’s own energies and intentions. Innocence is not immunity to suffering, but a faith in lifeand an openness to others that mitigate that suffering byplacing it in a larger universe. Experience is marked bydespair and a withdrawal into one’s private self.”Ultimately one can see that the nettlesome bards ‘belong’to the thorny ground of fallen Earth, but that is not toreduce them to the same level of delusion. The bards areone means of universal redemption, not least because theycall the readers to action against the social evils thatmake innocent people suffer.” (Ferber, Pg 22) .. Work Cited PageJohnson, Mary L., and John E. Grant, eds. Blake’s Poetry and Designs. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1979.Bloom, Harold. William Blake. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985.Ferber, Michael. The Poetry of William Blake. London: Pengiun Books, 1991.Rossetti, William M., ed. The Poetical Works of William Blake. London: G. Bell and Sons, LTD., 1914.