Songs of Innocence and Experience

  • Created by: India
  • Created on: 17-04-19 09:39

Introduction (SoI)

SYNOPSIS: The narrator (possible Blake), comes across a child who asks him to sing a song. The songs are about innocence and the poem seems to be about the creation of innocence. Blake sets the tone for innocence within this poem as a place of freedom and joy.

Key Themes: Pastoral (abundance of pastoral imagery to represent freedom within nature), The nature of childhood, The nature of innocence (does innocence make you ignorant and vulnerable)? Humanity and creation/Human connection with God.

Key Quotes: "On a cloud I saw a child" // "Whilst he wept with joy to hear" // "And I wrote my happy songs, /Every child may joy to hear"

1 of 20

The Little Girl Lost (SoI)

SYNOPSIS: The poem is about a little girl (Lyca), who wanders into the den of wild beasts. At first, the animals seem to be threatening and sinister however we then see that they are playful and welcoming. Blake subverts our expectations of what is going to happen. The animals lick and kiss Lyca, this could be representative of a sexual awakening and Blake's message of sexual liberation.

Key Themes: Love and sexuality, Attitudes towards the body and senses, Parental care/neglect, The nature of Humanity.

Key Quotes: "In futurity, I prophetic see" // "The kingly lion stood and the virgin viewed" // "bowed his mane of gold" // "and her bosom lick" // "from his eyes of flame, ruby tears there came" // "and naked they conveyed"

2 of 20

The Lamb (SoI)

SYNOPSIS: Question and answer structure whereby a young child asks the 'Lamb' questions about where he came from and who made him. The Lamb (as a recurring motif within Songs) is representative of Jesus Christ, who was "meek and mild", the child ponders about creation. Within this poem, Blake advocates freedom to ask questions like this about religion (as contrasted from the fate of the boy in Little Boy Found, exp) and also suggests a connection between children and religion.

Key Themes: Children, The nature of innocence, Religion, Connection between God and man

Key Quotes: "Little Lamb who made thee?" // "For he calls himself a man. /He is meek and mild" // "Little Lamb God bless thee"

3 of 20

Infant Joy (SoI)

SYNOPSIS: A baby is born into a free and unrestricted world, the narration is from the P.O.V of the baby who names itself 'Joy'. The mother responds to the child's calls lovingly, however within the poem, the child has power over its parent, Blake suggests that children are at the centre of holiness and purity. Infant Joy contrasts its companion poem, Infant Sorrow as in this poem, the baby is born free, happy and independent whereas, in Infant Sorrow, the child is born into the constraints of experience.

Key Themes: Parental care and neglect, the nature of innocence, children, religion.

Key Quotes: "Joy is my name, /sweet joy befall thee" // "Sweet joy but two days old, /sweet joy I call thee" // "I sing the while, /Sweet joy befall thee"

4 of 20

The Schoolboy (SoI)

SYNOPSIS: A young child describes his love for nature his connection to nature, however, he then goes on to describe his despair at having to go to school on a "summer's morn". In this poem, Blake criticises formalised education for its role in preventing creativity and repression a creative spirit, instead, he advocates freedom in nature and freedom of expression.

Key Themes: The nature of innocence, childhood, oppression of institutions such as formalised religion, freedom in nature, the pastoral.

Key Quotes: "But to go to school on a summer's morn, /Oh! It drives all joy away!" // "How can a bird that is born for joy, /Sit in a cage and sing?" // "if buds are nipped" // "and if the tender plants are stripped"

5 of 20

The Little Black Boy (SoI)

SYNOPSIS: A young black boy compares his appearance with a white child. He remembers his mothers teaching about heaven and a god that loves all, he says he with shield the white child and protect him from the rays of the sun and then he will be like him and God will reward him. Blake attacks attitudes to race and slavery here but also explores how innocence can sometimes mean ignorance to evil.

Key themes: Race, religion and the church, ignorance in innocence, the nature of childhood, god and man, suffering and afterlife.

Key quotes: "And I am black, but oh! My soul is white, /white as an angel is the English child" // "that we may learn to bear the beams of love" // "this sun-burnt face" // "when I from black and he from white cloud free, /and round the tent of God like lambs we joy" // "I'll shade him from the heat till he can bear" // "And be like him, and he will then love me"

6 of 20

The Voice of the Ancient Bard (SoI)

SYNOPSIS: Blake emplores to the "youth of delight", in a prophetic voice he tells them to see the new day when folly and doubt are gone. He recalls how many before them have fallen because of their folly and advocates the absence of blindness and confusion. In this poem, Blake implores to us to be rid of "mind-forged manacles" and see clearly.

Key themes: rebellion/revolution, ignorance/blindness

Key quotes: "Youth of delight come hither and see the opening morn" // "doubt is fled and clouds of reason" // "folly is an endless maze!" // "and wish to lead others where they should be led"

7 of 20

The Echoing Green (SoI)

SYNOPSIS: A pastoral picture of a village green is painted. Old people reminisce on their time as children as they watch the children play and be merry. Blake advocates the aspects of freedom and joy felt in nature however there is a more sinister tone and the towards the end of the poem, the idea that this innocence and freedom will end.

Key themes: nature of childhood and innocence, ignorance in innocence, pastoral

Key quotes: "in our youth-time were seen, /on the echoing green" // "the sun does arise, /and make happy the skies" // "the sun does ascend, /and our sports have an end" // "and sport no more seen, /on the darkening green"

8 of 20

Holy Thursday (SoI)

SYNOPSIS: The pairs of children march down to St. Pauls Cathedral on ascension day in order to thank their benefactors for the help they give them. However, there is a sense of regimented and controlled praise here. Blake critiques this, posing the idea that the benefactors and the church ignore poverty. 

Key themes: Ignorance in innocence, corruption within religion/the church

Key quotes: "the children walking two and two" // "they like thames waters flow" // "these flowers of London town" // "seated in companies they sit" // "then cherish pity. Lest you drive an angel from your door"

9 of 20

The Chimney Sweeper (SoI)

SYNOPSIS: A young chimney sweep comforts his chimney sweep friend, reminding him that the suffering he's going through in life will be rewarded by God in the afterlife. Blake criticises this view, suggesting that life should be liberating and joyful, especially childhood.

Key themes: corruption of institutions, ignorance in innocence, parental neglect, childhood

Key quotes: "weep weep weep weep" // "you know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair" // "your chimneys I sweep and in soot I sleep" // "so if all do their duty, they need not fear harm"

10 of 20

A Cradle Song (SoI)

SYNOPSIS: A mother sings a slightly unconventional lullaby to her child, she wishes to protect it from all suffering and the "woes" of the world of experience. She asks the angel and a higher power to look over her baby and protect it. She knows there is a reason for sorrow in life and wishes her baby to avoid it, finally, Jesus smiles over the child and so does she. Blake appeals to the idea if ignorance within innocence in this poem.

Key Themes: Parental care, God and religion, ignorance in innocence

Key Quotes: "Sweet dreams form a shade, /o'er my lovely infants head" // "sweet moans, sweeter smiles, /all the dovelike moans beguiles" // "thy maker lay and wept for me" // "infant smiles are his own smiles, /Heaven and earth to peace beguiles"

11 of 20

Introduction (SoE)

SYNOPSIS: The bard (could be Blake), looks upon the earth and observes all the is wrong with it as a consequence of the "fall" of humanity. He calls on humanity to observe this "fall" and the despair created as a consequence and he calls for change. This is an overt social/political poem in which Blake calls to the real people of London to look upon themselves and change.

Key Themes: Rebellion, fallen humanity, religion

Key Quotes: "and fallen, fallen light renew!" // "Hear the voice of the bard! /Who present, past and future sees" // "O earth, O earth return!" 

12 of 20

Holy Thursday (SoE)

SYNOPSIS: Much more overtly than the companion poem in innocence, HT (e) interrogatest the audience of the conditions of the children of poverty. Blake's overt political message is to look at those who are in poverty and change it.

Key themes: Rebellion/revolution, children/the innocent, neglect of the poor

Key Quotes: "Is this a Holy thing to see, /in a rich a fruitful land" // "Babes reduced to misery, /fed with a cold and usurous hand?" // "and their sun does never shine, /and their fields are bleak and bare"

13 of 20

The Chimney Sweeper (SoE)

SYNOPSIS: A young child observes his role as a chimney sweep. He says how because of his parents neglect, he became a chimney sweep, and because of his smiles, people assume he is fine. Blake attacks formalised religion and the government for their part in allowing child labour.

Key Themes: Parental neglect, childhhood in experience, institutions such as religion and the government. 

Key Quotes: "a little black thing among the snow" // "they are both gone up to church to pray" // "they clothed me in clothes of death" // "and are gone to praise God and his priest and king, /who make up a heaven of our misery"

14 of 20

The Angel (SoE)

SYNOPSIS: The narrator tells us of a dream about an angel who came to her in a "dream". The narrator is scared by the angel and hides herself away from him until he leaves. However, the narrator begins to become comfortable with the idea of the Angel however when he returns, she is old and grey. In this poem, Blake advocates liberation of love and sexuality, he poses the threat of what can happen if we hide ourselves away from love.

Key Themes: Love and sexuality, restrictions and constraints, religion

Key Quotes: "hid from him my hearts delights" // "for the time of youth was fled, /and grey hairs were on my head" 

15 of 20

My Pretty Rose Tree (SoE)

SYNOPSIS: In this poem Blake looks at the experience of love in a fallen world. The narrator is offered a flower however rejects it in favour of the rose tree. The rose tree then rejects the speaker with jealousy. The poem is about the jealousy and possessiveness of love in a fallen world, where one uses love to gain power and control and bind yourself to another, rather than experiencing love freely as Blake advocated.

Key Themes: Jealousy, love in a fallen world, sexuality, the 'fall' of humanity

Key Quotes: "I passed the sweet flower o'er" // "My rose tree turned away with jealousy" // "her thorns were my  only delight"

16 of 20

The Little Vagabond (SoE)

SYNOPSIS: Throughout the poem, Blake contrasts images of what the church is and what it could be, the poem is overtly rebellious in Blake's rejection of binary opposites such as God and the Devil in favour of the conjunction of the two in an ideal world. This highly controversial image explores the complexity of the human condition.

Key Themes: Religion, the human condition, corruption of religion

Key Quotes: "The church is cold but the alehouse is healthy and pleasant and warm" // "and the parson might preach and drink and sing" (control through religion) // "and God like a father rejoicing to see [...] would have no more quarrel with the Devil or the barrel"

17 of 20

London (SoE)

SYNOPSIS: Blake paints an overtly rebellious image of the 'fallen' state of humanity in London however he criticises the public for actively restricting themselves and manifesting shame into rules through "mind forged manacles" that are then enforced by institutios such as religion. Blake describes the claustrophobia caused by industrialisation and the threat of death ever apparent in life (marriage hearse)

Key Themes: Corruption of institutions, fallen humanity, exploitaiton, the human condition, rebellion

Key Quotes: "mind-forged manacles" // "chartered street [...] charteres thames" // "black'ning church appalls" // "youthful harlots curse" // "blights with plague the marriage hearse"

18 of 20

Infant Sorrow (SoE)

SYNOPSIS: In the poem, a child is born into the world of experience and almost immediately constrained, in contrast with the companion poem, Blake paints an image where societal restrictions are apparent from birth and childhood is one of restraint rather than freedom.

Key Themes: Parental cruelty/neglect, restrictions and constraint, corruption

Key Quotes: "Into the dangerous world I leapt" // "struggling against my fathers hands" // "bound and weary"

19 of 20

A Little Boy Lost (SoE)

SYNOPSIS: In the poem, the speaker (a child) questions the role of God and his own capacity of love for God. The priest, hearing this questioning punishes the child until he eventually dies. In this poem, Blake rejects tyranny in religion and advocates freedom to ask questions. The poem overtly shows the cruelty and corruption in religion.

Key Themes: Corruption in religion, parental neglect, restriction and constraint, overt cruelty

Key Quotes: "and all admired his priestly care" // "the weeping child could not be heard" // "bound him in an iron chain" // "are such things done on Albion's shore?"

20 of 20


No comments have yet been made

Similar English Literature resources:

See all English Literature resources »See all William Blake resources »