William Blake’s “Songs Of Innocence And Experience” Essay, Research Paper
In this first essay, I will be dealing with poems from
William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. More
precisely, I shall be dealing with the Introduction from
Songs of Innocence, as well as its counterparts Introduction
from Songs of Experience and Earth’s Answer. For my thesis,
I shall attempt to demonstrate how Blake used the symbols of
the Piper and the Bard to represent the states of innocence
and of experience, and how he passes from one state to the
next through the use of these symbols.
Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience are two
series of poems which complete one another. Each poem has a
counterpart in the opposite series. Many people tend to
misread or misinterpret these poems. In order to be able to
fully understand what Blake is saying, we must look at both
corresponding poems as one.
Let us examine the images of the Piper and the Bard.
The OED defines Bard as an “Ancient Celtic order of
minstrel-poets, whose primary function appears to have been
to compose and sing verses celebrating the achievements of
chiefs and warriors.” In his poems, Blake’s definition is
fundamentally the same, except that he utilizes the term to
mean someone “Who Present, Past, & Future sees”. The Bard
is able to see through time and space. He is what Blake
defines as a Visionary. The Piper, on the other hand, is
not of this nature. He is a simple man who dwells in
innocence. He listens to the child he encounters without
thinking. In his mind, everyone is good, everyone is
honest. But while the Bard is living in a world of
experience, he sees without judging, he knows without
thinking. The Bard is at the highest level attainable by
humankind. He has returned to the perfect unity that was
before the creation of our fallen world. Therefore, he
lives in innocence. But a Bard he cannot be without
experience, because he is destined to tell the stories of
those from the past to the masses of the future. He cannot
be whole without combining both innocence and experience
within himself. No living being can exist solely in
innocence or experience. We necessarily must be a
combination of both.
In Introduction from Songs of Innocence, the Piper
“loses” his innocence, in a manner of speaking. The child
makes the Piper write his songs so “that all may read”. In
doing so, he creates writing for the first time. Therefore,
he gains experience, in that he can educate others of his
songs, teach them to others, all the while, not having to
remember them all. It is not so much that he has lost his
innocence, as that he has gained experience.
Blake passes from the Piper in Songs of Innocence to
the Bard in Songs of Experience much in the same manner he
did with the Lamb and the Tyger. In the Songs of Innocence,
the Lamb is a powerful symbol of innocence. It is youth; it
is white; it is innocent and gentle. In contrast, the Tyger
is a symbol of experience. It is cunning, deceitful and
cruel. The images from the Songs of Innocence are inversely
paralleled in the Songs of Experience. Therefore, what is
innocent becomes experienced, and vice-versa.
In his poems, Blake does not describe innocence or
experience. He does not even employ these terms, yet
proceeds to paint a portrait of these states. He recreates
a state of innocence or of experience by using a number of
different techniques. For example, in Introduction from
Songs of Innocence, the rhythm of the poem is very childlike
and simple. It is a bouncy rhythm which is very easily
followed, but not structured in any way. This pattern is
simple, like a child, and free from experience. The use of
the child as a symbol of innocence is another method Blake
utilizes to recreate this state of innocence.
Another technique Blake used is placing opposites
within the poem. For example, he writes: “While he wept
with joy to hear.” and ” And I stain’d the water clear,”.
In an adult’s rational mind, these contraries cannot exist.
We do not normally cry when we are happy, but rather when we
are sad. And by staining the water clear, Blake is creating
a paradox. Something cannot be stained clear. In a child’s
mind, opposites do not exist. These statements all make
perfect sense to him. A child does not have a rational
mind; a child has a literal mind.
Repetition is yet another method used by Blake to
recreate the state of innocence. Repetition is an important
tool used by children to learn. They repeat what they are
told, and adults repeat what the child says to assure
clarity. In this poem, we find the words piper, pipe,
piping and song repeated numerous times. We therefore
associate the repetition with the symbol of the young child,
thus reinforcing the image of innocence. It aides in
creating the state of innocence in this series of poems. We
also find parallel structuring which is repeated throughout
In the Songs of Experience, Blake has divided the
dialectic which took place in the Introduction from Songs of
Innocence, between the child and the piper, into two parts.
The first being Introduction and the second Earth’s Answer.
The first part is the voice of the Bard speaking to the
Earth. Although, there appears to be an ambiguity in this.
In the first stanza, we are presented to the Bard who has
heard “the Holy Word”. The second stanza begins with a
conjugated verb, but it’s subject is left ambiguous. We do
not know for certain whether it is the voice of the Bard or
the Holy Word which is “Calling the lapsed Soul”. In an
essay written by Robert F. Gleckner (1960), he states that
he interprets the ambiguity as evidence of two separate
voices within the poem. One is the voice of the Bard, the
second the Holy Word of God. They both are saying the same
thing in the final two stanzas. They are both pleading with
the Earth to return to its splendor. The reply to this
calling is found in Earth’s Answer. In this poem, Earth is
answering to the voice (or voices) calling it, but it is
feeling restrained by jealousy, by the chains of
The rhythm in the Songs of Experience is much more
defined. It is more solemn and rigid. Blake remains very
faithful to the format. The rhyme scheme does not change in
the Introduction, and the meter length remains relatively
the same in each stanza, which creates order. This
structure allows the reader to be able to anticipate what
shall come next.
Now the symbols have been modified. The Piper of the
Introduction to Songs of Innocence has matured into the Bard
of Introduction to Songs of Experience. When the child made
him write out his verses, he became, in essence the Bard.
The child, then, was transferred to the symbol of the Earth
(Gleckner, 1959, p. 238). This passage from Gleckner’s work
sums up the situation best:
In terms of the Introduction and Earth’s Answer,
the Songs of Experience can now be viewed in their
proper perspective. The Bard who sees the present
as it is, knows of the past and how it works in
the present, will sing of experience and look with
sure vision at the state beyond (Jerusalem and
Milton). The listener is Earth, and we too
listen, not to joy, as in Songs of Innocence, but
to find our way. (p. 238)
While the Bard sees events past, present and future, he
does not necessarily see them as “a single mental form”
(Bloom, 1963, p. 130). What he means is that the Bard has
heard the Holy Word, but does not hear it now. The Bard
also perceives man as a “lapsed Soul”, while Blake does not.
Blake believed that all men had the innate capacity to
return to their spiritual consciousness, but the Bard sees
no hope. He rather implores for Earth herself to return to
her higher form, her form before having fallen. The Bard
therefore still possesses some innocence in him.
Therefore, in conclusion, the Piper and the Bard are
two major symbols of innocence and of experience in their
respective series of poems. But while they demonstrate
their states through their actions, we also find that they
possess qualities from their opposite states. The Piper who
learns to write his songs gains in experience, and the Bard
still possesses a somewhat naive perspective on the fallen
world. One cannot exist without a mixture of both worlds.
It is important to remember that if we only look at one poem
from either series, it is not yet complete in as of itself.
It is also important to note that unless we examine the
poems with the knowledge of which series they are found in,
we may not necessarily be able to identify which state it
Bloom, Harold. (1963). Blake’s Apocalypse – A Study in
Poetic Argument. Ithaca, Cornell University Press.
Gleckner, Robert F. (1959). The Piper and the Bard – a
study of William Blake. Detroit, Wayne State
University Press. 318 p.
Gleckner, Robert F. (1960). Point of View and Context in
Blake’s Songs. In M.H. Abrams (Ed.). English Romantic
Poets – Modern Essays in Criticism. New York, Oxford
University Press. (pp. 68-75)