Blake Essay, Research Paper
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 ^?Holy Thursday^? and ^?The Chimney Sweeper^? 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 na?ve 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 experience.
Often the words of the poem are spoken by a child. It would be
impossible to imagine a modern child using language such as:
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice.
and it is most unlikely that children spoke thus even in Blake^?s day.
Yet this is the language of children^?s hymns. I was personally
acquainted with all the words in ^?The Lamb^?, 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
I, a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
The syntax and tone, however, have the authentic simplicity of
children^?s speech. The first verse is a series of questions addressed
to the lamb. The second stanza begins with the child^?s triumph at being
able to answer those questions:
Little Lamb, I^?ll 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 ^?The Lamb^? this takes the form of a refrain repeated at the
beginning and the end of each stanza, once more reminiscent of
children^?s hymns. In contrast, ^?The Tyger^? 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 ^?Could^? is finally
replaced by the far more menacing ^?Dare^?. There is no such progression
in Songs of Innocence. Each song captures the ^?moment in each day that
Satan cannot find^? [Milton, II, Pl.35, 1.42]. Blake^?s 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 ^?Infant Joy^? the
baby is free even of the bonds of a name. In ^?Cradle Song^? it is the
mother who speaks, not with the simplicity of ^?Infant Joy^? 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 ^?sweet^? and ^?dovelike^? [Cradle song] whereas in
Songs of Experience the babies cry in ^?fear^? [London}.
In Songs of Innocence the narrative is as simple as the direct speech.
The verbs are straightforward and unambiguous; God ^?appeared^? , He
^?kissed^? the child, ^?led^? 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 ^?walking naked^?, to
use Yeats^? 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^?s voice never falters: the language is consistently
na?ve, 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^?s language is na?ve 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.