Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience notes.

Notes, including key quotes of many Songs of Innocence and Experience poems.

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Introduction (innocence)

  • On the surface:
  • Poem about someone playing music.
  • Deeper meaning:
  • The "child" that comes down on a cloud could be an angelic vision, as Blake said he often witnessed.
  • The repetition of the "piper" could be a reference to the story of the
    Pied Piper, who lured children out of the city with his music and into a cave, never to be seen again. Shows the danger of being innocent and naive?
  • Ambiguous images of nature could link to other poems in the collection about destroying the natural world.
  • Notable points: 
  • Childlike, nursary rhyme feel - Repetition of the conjuction "and", ABAB rhyme scheme.
  • Key quotes:
  • "On a cloud I saw a child" - The Angel (?) that comes down to listen.
  • "And I stained the water clear" - Ambiguous image, "stained" connotes being marked for life.
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The Little Girl Lost (innocence)

  • On the surface:
  • A girl - Lyca -  has gotten lost in the desert, seperated from her parents.
  • Deeper meaning:
  • Polysemic poem - Several possible interpretations to the poem: 
  • Death -  The desert is illness that Lyca suffers. The lion is an angel or god who guides her safely to the cave (death).
  • Religion - A young girl wondering lost in the world, is found by the lion (religion) and becomes safe and secure in the world again.
  • Sexuality - A metaphor for sexual awakening. The desert is virginity, the lion a man or the prospect of sex, which is scary for Lyca at first.
  • Notable points:
  • The poem starts with a prologue and switches to Lyca's voice.
  • Key quotes:
  • "Seven summers old" - Isn't necessarily literal account of her age, made fairytale-like.
  • "The kingly lion" - Lion not represented in a negative light, but possitively.
  • "And her bosom lick" - Links to sexual interpretations of the poem.
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The Little Girl Found (innocence)

  • On the surface:
  • About a couple searching for their daughter who has gotten lost in the desert.
  • Deeper meaning:
  • Polysemic - open to many interpretations:
  • Death - Parents coming to terms with the death of their young daughter, learn to come to terms with her death and live a life free from the fear of death.
  • Religion - Parents coming to terms with or also going through the same awakening as Lyca.
  • Sexuality - Parents coming to terms with the sexual awakening of their daughter. The
    Lion is her boyfriend or husband, eventually see him as a prince instead of a lion.
  • Notable points:
  • Carries on from The Little Girl Lost.
  • Key quotes:
  • "On his head a crown" - The parents of Lyca see the Lion turn into a princely figure.
  • "Lyca lies asleep" - "Asleep" as in dead or safe?
  • "Nor fear the wolvish howl" - The parents are no longer scared of something they were before.
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The Lamb (innocence)

  • On the surface:
  • A child talking to a lamb and asking how it was created.
  • Deeper meaning:
  • The child is questioning the creation of the lamb by god, comparing the lamb to Jesus. 
  • The animal of the lamb links to sacrifice in the bible, Jesus often called 'the Lamb of God' because of his sacrifice.
  • Notable points:
  • AABBCC rhyme scheme and mainly monosyllabic, shows the childlike nature of the poem.
  • Paired with Blake's poem 'The Tyger.'
  • Blake takes on the persona of a young Christian boy.
  • Key quotes:
  • "He is meek and he is mild" - Talking about Jesus, comparrison to the lamb.
  • "Little Lamb who made thee?" - The child is asking questions about creation.
  • "Thee" and "thou" - Archaic language, used to make reference to the Bible?
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The Schoolboy (innocence)

  • On the surface:
  • About a child who doesn't want to go to school.
  • Deeper meaning:
  • Romantic movement ideas of children explored, they should be free and close to God.
  • William Golding's The Lord of the Flies was written shortly after this poem to appose the Romantics views on children as being 'educated by nature' - Rousseau.
  • The Schoolboy about how children should be learning through the exploration of nature, not in classrooms, to benefit them in later life.
  • Notable points:
  • Bird-like imagery to show how children should be free.
  • Key quotes:
  • "How can the bird... sit in a cage and sing?" - Children should not be locked away.
  • "Buds are nipped" - Children are being repressed and destroyed.
  • "What greifs destroy" - Having a repressed childhood leads to griefs in later life.
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Holy Thursday (innocence)

  • On the surface:
  • Poor, possibly orphaned children taking part in a parade and church service.
  • Deeper meaning:
  • Ambiguous images of the ill-treatment of children, links to Biblical sacrifice with the mentioning of lambs and desperate images of children.
  • However the authority figures are presented as kind and wise and natural imagery suggests the poem is actually not meant to be ambiguous. 
  • Notable points:
  • Natural imagery throughout.
  • Lots of links to the Bible; "multitudes" - Matthew 14:19 'He commanded the multitude' or 'multitude of angels' present in the Nativity story.
  • Key quotes:
  • "...in red and blue and green" - Colourful like flowers or bruises and cuts on the children?
  • "Mighty wind" - description of the children's singing voices.
  • "Lest you drive an angel from your door" - Message to be kind to everyone, including children.
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The Clod and the Pebble (experience)

  • Interpretations:
  • A debate poem. Debates the nature of love as self-sacrificing or selfish.
  • The Clod - (A clump of mud) is soft when trodden on, is a self-sacrifcing love, puts up with being stepped all over all day.
  • The Pebble - Pebble is hard to stand on, gives love for selfish reasons.
  • Notable points:
  • Fable-like tone to the poem.
  • Split, first stanza about the clod, last stanza about the pebble.
  • Key quotes:
  • "Love seeketh not itself to please" - The clod, love is self-sacrficing, selfless.
  • "Love seeketh only itself to please" - The pebble, love is selfish.
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Holy Thursday (experience)

  • Interpretations:
  • A holy day presented where no one is acting holy.
  • Irony shown of England being a wealthy country but filled with so much poverty at the time.
  • Presents the social issues of an unequal distribution of wealth in England.
  • A pollitical statement made by Blake.
  • Notable points:
  • Direct comparrison to Holy Thursday in innocence, present the same day.
  • Natural imagery of the sun and fields but presented negatively.
  • Key quotes:
  • "Babes reduced to misery" - Presentation of the poverty through children.
  • "Is that a trembling cry a song?" - Children so sickly and poor that they can't sing a hymn of joy.
  • "It is eternal winter there" - Children in poverty in eternal winter, no joyous escape of summer.
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The Chimney-Sweeper (experience)

  • Interpretations:
  • Blake's anger at the indifference in society over using children as labour.
  • Written in 1794. In 1785, a law was passed to help protect chimney-sweepers but it failed to help anyone at the time.
  • Shows how wrong it is to violate a child.
  • Notable points:
  • Contrast of colours, presents the purity and innocence of children against their job.
  • Links of black being the colour of soot and death, presents the job as slowly killing them.
  • End stanza slows down in pace to expose the last few lines about the hypocricy at the heart of state religion.
  • Key quotes:
  • "A little black thing among the snow" - Contrast of black and white.
  • "Clothes of death" - The colour of mourning is the same as the colour of soot.
  • "Priest and king, / Who make up a heaven of our misery" - Last two lines, Religion turns a blind eye to what is happening.
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The Sick Rose (experience)

  • Interpretations:
  • Death - The worm takes shelter from the storm in a rose and ultimately destroys it.
  • Sex - The Rose is a metaphor for female sexuality, the worm is male sexuality. Could be a subtle dig at the church for saying that the relationship between man and woman before marriage will destroy the woman.
  • Nature - The Rose is the natural world, the worm is humankind, who in admiring the natural world, kill and destroy it.
  • Politics - The Rose symbolises England, which Blake believes to be "sick".
  • Notable points: 
  • Whatever the poem is meant to mean, it ends in two things: "Joy" and "destroy", the rhyming couplet helps draw attention to these two words.
  • Key quotes:
  • "Thy bed of crimson joy" - Description of the Rose.
  • "His dark secret love, / Does thy life destory" - The worm destroys the Rose, "love" connotes the sexual interpretation, or possible the religious aspect.
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The Tyger (experience)

  • Interpretations:
  • Questions how God could create something as meek and mild as the Lamb and also as destructive and dangerous as the Tiger.
  • Questions are asked of the Tiger and how it came to be but are not answered.
  • Notable points:
  • Blacksmith imagery: "furnace", "chain", "hammer" links to creation and the industrial revoution.
  • AABBCC etc. Rhyme scheme.
  • Strong, chant-like pace, mostly with harsh sounds to end each line - links to the harsh nature of the tiger.
  • First and last stanza exactly the same except one word changed: "Could" to "Dare", changes from asking how God could of created the Tiger to demanding why he would want to.
  • Directly linked the 'The Lamb' in Innocence.
  • Key quotes:
  • "Did he who made the lamb made thee?" - Questions how someone could make both the Lamb and the Tiger.
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My Pretty Rose Tree (experience)

  • Interpretations:
  • Contains inherent dictomy (two images within) of the Rose and its Thorns.
  • About a man (possibly Blake) who is approached by a young woman, the persona of the poem turns the woman down, saying he has a Rose Tree at home (a wife).
  • The Rose flower connotes innocence, beauty and youth of the young girl.
  • The thorns connote the harsh, punishing nature of the wife. 
  • Notable points:
  • First stanza about the young girl, second about the wife. 
  • Inherent Dictomy - The rose flower and the thorns.
  • Key quotes:
  • "I passed the sweet flower o'er" - The voice of the poem says no to the young woman.
  • "Her thorns were my only delight" - not met with happiness and rewards from the wife.  
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Ah! Sunflower (experience)

  • Interpretations:
  • About the Youth (a young male) and the Virgin (young female) who are either longing for each other or for heaven.
  • An attack on the Church's teachings.
  • Notable points:
  • Links to the story of Clytie, who longed for the sun god Apollo, he turned her into the first sunflower so she could always follow him. The Youth and the Virgin's longings are linked to hers.
  • Key quotes:
  • "The youth pined away with desire" - The young man is longing for something.
  • "Weary of time" - the Youth and the Virgin weary of the ending of their life approaching?
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The Garden of Love (experience)

  • Interpretations:
  • An attack on the church's obsession with death.
  • The voice of the poem goes back to a field he used to play on and finds a church and graveyard there instead, criticises Religion for not being free.
  • Notable points:
  • The field in the past presented as 'prelapsarian' - before the fall of Adam and Eve, the garden of Eden.
  • Hymn like structure to add to the criticism.
  • "Thou shalt not" links to the 10 commandments.
  • Key quotes:
  • "Tomb-stones where flowers should be" - Blake presents the obsession with death where there should be an obsession with life.
  • "Priests in black gowns" - Priests in the colour of death where the field used to be green.
  • "Binding with briars my joys and desires" - Rhyme scheme changes to emphasise this line, showing the ridgid thorn-like restriction of the church.
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The Little Vagabond (experience)

  • Interpretations:
  • Young boy complains to his mother about the ways and teachings of the church.
  • Vagabond = a young poor boy, probably living on the street.
  • Young boy belives the church would be better if it were like an ale-house.
  • Blake presumably uses the persona of a young boy in order to share his own opinions on the church but without any of the questioning, as it comes from a 'vagabond's' mouth, not his own.
  • Notable points:
  • Contrasts the church to the ale house throughout.
  • Makes links to the story of the Prodigal son, who was welcomed home with clothes and drink.
  • Key quotes:
  • "The ale-house is healthy and pleasant and warm" - Views on the ale-house.
  • "Would have no more quarrel with the devil" - The child thinks that there would be no trouble with the devil if church were like an ale-house.
  • "Give him both drink and apparel" - Links to the Prodigal son story.
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London (experience)

  • Interpretations:
  • Rousseau-esque views - an attack on urban civilisation and problems with humanity. Specifically problems like authority turning a blind eye to issues, nature being controled, corruption in the church, political bans and the sex industry.
  • Notable points:
  • Plosive 'B' sounds in the last stanza, emphasises the word "blast" to show extremity.
  • Oxymoronic contrast of "marriage hearse" could show either hope of new life or the inevitability of death.
  • First person observation like a documentory.
  • Repetition of the word "chartered" (means controlled, restricted).
  • Key quotes:
  • "Mind-forged manacles I hear" - mental restrictions on the people of London, no freedome of speech or expression etc.
  • "Every blank'ning church" - The church darkening with corruption.
  • "Soldier's sigh / runs in blood" - Sacrifice, protection needed from the government.
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