William Blake 2

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

the poem.

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.

443 p.

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)


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