Blake Songs of Innocence/Experiences Themes & Quotes Flashcards

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Religion

Blake uses poetry to criticize organised

religious influence and practise, and the effects  

on society.

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Religion - Holy Thursday (Experience)

  • Blake questions injustice. In the first stanza, Blake contrasts the "rich and fruitful land" with the actions of a "cold and usurous hand" - thereby continuing his questioning of the virtue of a society where resources are abundant but children are still "reduced to misery".
  • Blake critiques the religious leaders of his day for their hypocrisy and claimed acts of charity. He sees the established church's hymns as a sham, suggesting in his second stanza that the sound which would represent the day more accurately would be the "trembling cry" of a poor child.
  • The poet states that although England may be a "rich and fruitful land", the unfeeling profit-orientated power of authority has designed for the innocent children suffering within it an "eternal winter"Blake wrote during the industrial revolution, whose pioneers congratulated themselves upon their vigorous increases in output. The poet argues that until increases in production are linked to more equitable distribution, England will always be a land of barren winter.
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Religion - The Chimney Sweeper (Innocence)

  • The poem comprises of 6 quatrains, each following the AABB rhyme scheme, with two rhyming couplets per quatrain.This makes the poem appear very simplistic and childlike. The first stanza introduces the speaker, a young boy who has been forced by circumstances into the hazardous occupation of chimney sweeper. 
  • Blake makes a passionate indictment of a society that exploits the weak and at the same time hypocritically uses moral platitudes about duty and goodness to further its selfish interests. Moreover, the reader is made aware of his own complicity in social evil when the sweeper addresses him directly with the pronoun 'your' - your chimneys I sweep.” He is giving the children a voice in a society where they were 'seen not heard'.
  • The "angel" in stanza 4, could be there to save the children and make them aware of the eternal joys of heaven. OR it could represent priests, or the 'beagles' described in Holy Thursday (Experience) and criticising their hypocritcal self-righteousness. Blake could be attacking the Church for instructing the poor to keep their place and wait for rewards in Heaven, rather than trying to alleviate their suffering on Earth.
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Religion - The Garden of Love (Experience)

  • It is a deceptively simple three-stanza poem made up of quatrains. The first two quatrains follow Blake's typical ABCB rhyme scheme, with the final stanza breaking the rhyme to ABCD. The lack of rhyme in the last stanza, which also contains the longest lines, serves to emphasize the death and decay that have overtaken a place that once used to hold such life and beauty for the speaker.
  • Blake again attacks priest for stifling desire and controlling everything; converting the innocent "Garden of Love" into a "Chapel", governed by laws and prohibitions which succeeded in turning Eden into a graveyard. 
  • Blake may be suggesting religion is both repressive and judgemental - "the gates of this chapel were shut" - this is still applicable today - gay marriage was only legalised in 2013 in the UK. Blake was in favour of free love - and he see's priests as repressive who bind peoples "joys and desires" with their religion.
  • This poem is also about the tryannical nature of religion - the narrator witnesses priests "walking their rounds".
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Experience

Blake depicts experience in his poetry to show the transformation into adults and the loss of virginity. It also references the growth of industry.

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Experience - The Sick Rose (Experience)

  • The speaker, addressing a rose, informs it that it is sick. An “invisible” worm has stolen into its bed in a “howling storm” and under the cover of night. The “dark secret love” of this worm is destroying the rose’s life.
  • The two quatrains of this poem rhyme ABCB. The ominous rhythm of these short, two-beat lines contributes to the poem’s sense of foreboding or dread and complements the unflinching directness with which the speaker tells the rose she is dying. This links to experience as when you're a child and are innocent - the concept of death is unknown to you.
  •  While the rose exists as a beautiful natural object that has become infected by a worm, it also exists as a literary rose, the conventional symbol of love and passion. 
  • Worms are quintessentially earthbound, and symbolize death and decay. The “bed” into which the worm creeps denotes both the natural flowerbed and also the lovers’ bed. 
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Experience - The Chimney Sweeper (Innocence)

  • The eponymous chimney sweeper and narrator was introduced into experience early on when his mother died he was "very young" and then his father sold him before he "could scarecely cry". He is very familiar with death - the "coffins of black" serve as a metaphor for the chimneys and illustratates how dangerous their profession is. 
  • The shaving of "little Tom Dacre's" hair is symbolic for the loss of innocence - as it resembles a lamb's back (lamb's have connations with innocence) and his hair is white (suggesting purity). This implies that their innocence was lost at a young age.
  • It is quite sad that a child thinks he can only be free and happy once he is dead.  
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Pastoral Vs. Urban

Blake uses poetry to juxtapose the beautful concepts of nature with the horrific images of the urban city in his poetry.

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Pastoral Vs. Urban Life - The Echoing Green

  • The poem follows the structure of a day— 'the sun does arise' in the beginning of the first verse, and 'the sun does descend' in the middle of the third stanza - could be a metaphor for human life?
  • It's a joyful poem celebrating spring. The green fields, chirping birds, and playing children remind the elderly observers of their own youth and bring them joy as well. That the field is “Ecchoing” indicates that this scene, like the season of spring itself, has played out before and will play out again and again in the future.
  • A hint of melancholy affects the poem in the last stanza, where the “Ecchoing” green becomes the “darkening” green. Spring will always come, and with it all the joys and vitality of the season, but it always eventually ends, giving way to the cold and gloom of autumn and winter. Similarly, there will always be young people to celebrate their joy in this world, but every young child eventually matures into an adult like “Old John,” who must content himself with secondhand or remembered joy while others dance the dance of life.
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Pastoral Vs. Urban Life - The Chimney Sweeper (Inn

  • This contrasts to the childhood of "little Tom Dacre" who dreams of the life they live in rural areas.
  • Demonstrates how in urban lifestyles, children are not expected to play, but to work. The only relief they find from this urban lifestyle is in their dreams, which are contrasted by the focus on pastoral imagery. This is chillingly a dream of death.
  • Idea that urban life strips a person of joy - corrupts their innocence.

[Also see London]

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Imagination Over Reason

Blake is a strong proponent of the value of human creativity, or imagination, over reason. As a poet and artist, Blake sees the power of art in its various forms to raise the human spirit above its earth-bound mire. He also sees the soul-killing materialism of his day, which uses rational thought as an excuse to perpetuate crimes against the innocent.

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Imagination Over Reason - 'The Little Girl Lost' (

  • It was originally written for Songs of Innocence, but were moved to Songs of Experience due to its eschatological themes i.e. concerned with death and judgement.
  • In TLGL Blake envisions a future in which the Earth has been unbound from the chains of reason and seeks her creator. The seven-year-old girl, Lyca, represents the human soul, lost and wandering “in desert wild” as she searches for meaning or solace. When "lovely Lyca", the eponymous 'little girl', falls alseep she finds the beginning of her own paradise. The wild animals, most notably a lion and lioness, surround Lyca’s sleeping form but cannot or will not harm her because she is a virgin. 
  • Each stanza follows an AABB rhyme scheme, with the word "asleep" or "sleep" making up many of the rhymes through frequent repetition. The sibilance of these words contributes to the dreamlike quality of the poem.
  • The innocent child is taken from her earthly suffering by death and given comfort and rest for eternity. Imagination has an amazing power to raise people's spirits, 'freeing' them.
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Imagination Over Reason - 'The Little Girl Lost' (

  • It was originally written for Songs of Innocence, but were moved to Songs of Experience due to its eschatological themes i.e. concerned with death and judgement.
  • In TLGL Blake envisions a future in which the Earth has been unbound from the chains of reason and seeks her creator. The seven-year-old girl, Lyca, represents the human soul, lost and wandering “in desert wild” as she searches for meaning or solace. When "lovely Lyca", the eponymous 'little girl', falls alseep she finds the beginning of her own paradise. The wild animals, most notably a lion and lioness, surround Lyca’s sleeping form but cannot or will not harm her because she is a virgin. 
  • Each stanza follows an AABB rhyme scheme, with the word "asleep" or "sleep" making up many of the rhymes through frequent repetition. The sibilance of these words contributes to the dreamlike quality of the poem.
  • The innocent child is taken from her earthly suffering by death and given comfort and rest for eternity. Imagination has an amazing power to raise people's spirits, 'freeing' them.

[ALSO see 'Experience - The Chimey Sweeper (Innocence) - imagiantion lifts "little Tom Dacre"'s spirits]

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Oppression

Blake lived in a period of aggressive British colonialism, slavery, social casting, Revolutionary change in America and Europe, as well as the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Being a member of the lower class, an uneducated artist, and considered by many to be an inferior poet bordering madness, Blake experienced firsthand the struggles of oppression. Using words and illustrations, Blake fought back against his countrymen, political and religious leaders. The theme of the repressed is the easiest to identify and extract from Blake’s poetry. 

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Oppression - London

  • Everything in this urban space—even the natural River Thames—submits to being “charter’d,” a term which combines mapping and legalism. Blake’s repetition of this word reinforces the sense of stricture the speaker feels upon entering the city.  
  • The poem follows an ABAB rhyme scheme throughout its three stanzas with little deviation from iambic tetrameter. Only "Mind-forg'd manacles" and "How" and "Blasts" in lines 14-15 are irregularly stressed. "Mind-forg'd" is stressed to further its contrast from the preceding three lines, each of which begins "In every" to create a litany of cries throughout London. Lines 14 and 15 give irregular stress to the two words in order to further disturb the reader, leading up to the oxymoron of the "marriage hearse"
  • The poet expresses his disdain for the urban sprawl of post-Industrial Revolution London.It is as if a system has been created specifically to destroy all that is good in humankind. The reader is  urged to seek refuge from the world’s ills in a more rural setting. [PASTORAL VS URBAN]
  • much of the poem decries man's self-oppression - "mind forg'd manacles" One reading of the poem suggests that the Harlot of the last stanza is in fact Nature herself, proclaimed a Harlot by a narrow-minded, patriarchal religious system. In this interpretation, Nature turns the marriage coach into a hearse for all marriage everywhere, because marriage is a limiting human institution that leads to the death of love rather than its fulfillment in natural impulses.

[FOR OPPRESSION ALSO SEE GARDEN OF LOVE & CHIMNEY SWEEPER]

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