Songs Of Innocence And Experie Essay, Research Paper
T.S. Eliot once said of Blake’s writings, “The Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience, and the poems from the Rossetti manuscripts, are the poems of a man with a profound interest in human emotions, and a profound knowledge of them.” (Grant, Pg 507) These two famous books of poetry written by William Blake, not only show men’s emotions and feelings, but explain within themselves, the child’s innocence, and man’s experience. A little over two centuries ago, William Blake introduced to the English literary world his two most famous books of poetry: the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience. In his own day, he was widely believed to be “quite mad,” though those who knew him best thought otherwise. Today, few of us take Blake’s madness seriously, either because we don’t believe in it or because it no longer matters. Blake’s fundamental concepts speak mainly about the human condition and emotion; and within the realms of this paper, I would like to persuade my readers that William Blake uses simple language and metaphors to show the two contrary states of the human soul – innocence and experience. The world of innocence is a child’s world, and it is preserved in the minds of full-grown children by projecting the memory or desire for parental protection on to a higher realm. The lambs with their “innocent calls”, the orphans and children with their “innocent faces”, are simple and pure in that they have done no harm; but they are also innocent in that nothing challenges their faith. They are naive and vulnerable to the conspiracy of the experienced world, and yet superior to it in their blessed simplicity. The world of experience is a different world then the one of innocence. Northrop Frye once said of the experience world; “The world of experience is the world that adults live in while they are awake. It is a very big world, and a lot of it seems to be dead, but still it makes its own kind of sense… the changes that occur in the world of experience are, on the whole. orderly and predictable changes.” (Grant, Pg 510) However, the adults were also once children, and in childhood, happiness differs from those of the full-grown. As a child, happiness is based not on law and reason, but on love, protection, and peace. As an adult, however, one must follow the rules of law and order. Frye also said this of the experienced world; “As adults, the law and order is the basis both of reason and society, without it there is no happiness.” (Grant, Pg 510) “The Songs of Innocence does not seem to be songs only about innocence, but by innocence.” (Ferber, Pg 2) This can be seen clearly within the “Introduction” section to the Songs of Innocence. The songs are ‘of’ innocence in the way the Piper’s songs are ’songs of pleasant glee’ and ‘happy chear’. They are of the world of innocence too, because their internal audience consists of innocents. For instance, when the child makes demands, the Piper casually and innocently responds – four demands followed by four responses: Pipe a song about a Lamb; So I piped with merry chear. The child, then, innocently, requested to hear the song again, but this time he ‘wept to hear.’ With the example above, one may suspect that the Songs of Innocence is ‘really’ aimed at sophisticated adults, but the reader may be ‘really’ a child anyway; therefore, it is safe to say that, as simple as it may seem, one should take seriously the Piper’s story that the Book of Innocence owes its existence to the demands of a child, even if he is an imaginary one. It is also say to say then, that in order to fully understand and appreciate all the songs that follow, one must comprehend the meanings hidden within the “Introduction”. The “Introduction” points the readers towards the pastoral world and the pastoral idea to follow in the next couple of songs. The reader can tell this by looking at Blake’s usage of props and themes of the classical pastoral tradition; such as the pipe and the hollow reed, the sweet lot of the shepherd and the pleasant sounds of nature. Blake uses a fairly clever conceit in the last stanza to have the Piper manufacture a ‘rural pen’ out of a hollow reed, rather then to pluck one from a bird, for it is a routine 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, while in another it may not. For instance, in church, one is not troubled by the thought of stained-glass windows? This is one example of Blake’s ambiguities. “Blake is filled with secondary and tertiary counter-meanings that lurk like quicksand or trapdoors underfoot, and an innocent reader of Blake must learn from experience to tread tiptoe through the primary 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 the first 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, has gone astray himself. This subversive thought breeds others: is he a wolf in shepherd’s clothing? Why, then, does Blake throw such ambiguity at his readers? To explain his belief that there are two contrary states of the man’s soul by relating it with the idea of the astray shepherd, perhaps? More important than classical pastoral in the Songs of Innocence is Christian pastoral. “The tradition that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and Christians are his flock is so familiar that we scarcely notice a metaphor in the ‘pastor’ of a ‘congregation’, or an emblem in the bishop’s crozier or crook.” (Ferber, Pg 7) Blake brings it to the readers attention 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 were no “Good Shepherd” tradition; but by placing “Shepherd’ at the end, Blake subtly evokes the thought that there may be another, ‘divine’ Shepherd nigh and that the second ‘they’ includes the mortal shepherd with his sheep. This thought clarifies the last line of the first stanza – “And his tongue shall be filled with praise” – for readers may have wondered whom he is praising. His sheep? No, he is praising the Good Shepherd, or Whoever it is that unites ewes and lambs and brings peace to the flock. “Even more central to Christian tradition is the inverse metaphor that Jesus is the Lamb of God; an innocent lamb ‘without blemish’, acceptable to God as a sacrifice for man’s sins. The identification of Jesus as Lamb is connected to the Incarnation and the Nativity, the arrival of the ‘divine’ among us not only in human form but as a baby, 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 the three 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 at his crucifixion – that is why he is called the lamb – and by doing so, embraced man again in their sorrows and death as well as their joys and life.” (Bloom, Pg 44) An example of this can be found in the poem “On Anothers Sorrow” as the speaker 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 great deal of sorrow within Blake’s ‘world of innocence’; for most of 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 weep The tears mentioned were hardly those of joy; they were tears 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 of unaccountable 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 very susceptible to pity, to tears; this then, is what Blake took into consideration when writing his poetry. He widened the world of innocence to embrace the ultimate in suffering; but he also kept it ‘innocent’, and rather obviously so. The examples for this are found in the latter poems in the Book of Innocence: “Holy Thursday”, “The Divine Image”, and “A Dream”. These poems explain that “where mutual concern and love break down, angels intervene and escorts the victim to a world where the broken knots of love and pity are re-knit for ever.” (Ferber, Pg 9) Innocence is primary and self-sufficient, but experience steals in or pounces upon unwary innocence in man’s unhappy world. For Blake, however, experience is a fallen state. A writer once said of this, “Experience is the ‘lapsed Soul’ that is addressed in the ‘Introduction’ to Experience … It is in no way higher than innocence, and it is not clear if it is even a necessary phase or passage…” (Rossetti, Pg 19) As with the Book of Innocence, there is a singer in the introduction section. However, unlike the first book, The Bard does not ‘introduce’ the readers to his world in the same manner as the Piper did in the Book of Innocence. One main thing the reader must notice is that the “introduction” or that the Bard’s poem has a reply, “Earth’s Answer”; this then, reveals the rough ground on which the Bard’s appeal falls upon. The amount of distance the readers have travelled can be seen in the fact that there are two speakers as opposed to the one speaker in the Book of Innocence. Another problem the reader encounters is the difficulty of the poem. The structure and the syntax of Blake’s writing is much harder and sophisticated in the Book of Experience than in Innocence. Even with the difficult punctuation and syntax Blake uses, the general purport of the “introduction” shows itself to the readers on the first reading; the Bard, like a biblical prophet, calls on the world to leave its darkness and return to its former state of 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 that it is neither a man, nor animal, or sun, nor star that the Bard 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 either the creation in book Genesis or the addressing of un- receptive souls of Israel by Jeremiah in book Jeremiah of the Bible. “Blake, in the introduction to Experience, gives us a set of mixed metaphors, but the metaphors have subterranean connections among themselves and therefore they are brilliantly mixed and hidden.” (Bloom, Pg 46) The ending to the introduction is a quiet one, but very powerful in 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 where Earth “should” rise and walk is above the stars, the place where the “Holy Word” reigns. Now then, if Earth sees the stars from “beneath”, she is either upside down, or fallen, or perhaps even both. The watry shore, which is the earth’s limit, is in a way, symbolizing the starry floor; and the watery shores are given to Earth by providence to sustain her until morning. In the last stanza, however, Earth finally sees herself as a victim of another, so she has but one choice, and that is to call upon the Father (or the voice 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 to God 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 no afflict themselves. But, as states, innocence and experience are subject to one’s own energies and intentions. Innocence is not immunity to suffering, but a faith in life and an openness to others that mitigate that suffering by placing it in a larger universe. Experience is marked by despair 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 to reduce them to the same level of delusion. The bards are one means of universal redemption, not least because they call the readers to action against the social evils that make innocent people suffer.” (Ferber, Pg 22) .. Work Cited Page Johnson, 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.