Songs of Innocence and Experience

William Blake

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  • Created by: Katie
  • Created on: 11-06-11 18:35

The Ecchoing Green

  • The poem depicts a conventional village scene in which a whole day’s cycle is portrayed.
  • Within it youth and age all have their parts to play alongside the birds and the other creatures of spring.
  • The old shepherd still has a place in family and society, even though in the city he might be displaced or pensioned off.
  • Similarly, the artificially within which city children might be brought up is contrasted with the ‘natural’ cycle of the countryside whereby children rest when they are tired and ‘sport’ naturally ends with the closing of the day.
  • Contrast to the physically and emotionally polluted environment of the city.
  • Repetition of ‘our’ – who is this? Or does it signify a common sense or ownership, of belonging?
  • Reminiscence of ‘old folk’ in connection with the play of youngsters, are we meant to see this in a natural development from youth to old age, or should we also see it as a kind of nostalgia?
  • The title of the poem – why is it an ‘ecchoing’ green?, is it because it reverberates with laughter and play, or because it continues to resound with the ‘echo’ of something either already or imminently lost?
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The Lamb

  • The narrator asks us to relate the lamb’s image as the most innocent of God’s creatures to the image of his maker, the ‘Lamb of God.’
  • Invites us to dwell upon the image of the lamb, however the final purpose is to invite the audience to ‘use’ this image as a means of asking questions about the whole of creation.
  • Insistent question: ‘who made thee’ – most appropriately asked of young children, but intends to address people of all times, especially as a reminder to those in war or industrial labour that there remains a more innocent world which we can still see if we allow ourselves to ‘cleanse’ our ‘doors of perception’.
  • ‘I a child & thou a lamb’ – words missing here, does Blake mean to sat that I ‘became’ a child, and thou ‘became’ a lamb? Or is he saying more that he, Blake, or the narrator ‘is’ a child?
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The Clod and the Pebble

  • A clod of clay and a pebble discuss the selfless and selfish versions of love.
  • Opposes two views of love: first regards love as a force whereby one gives oneself to and on behalf of the other, second speaks of a selfish, jealous love.
  • Putting them in this order shows which is dominant in the world of experience.
  • Why does Blake put these words into the mouths of two such unlikely protagonists as a clod of clay and a pebble? Most likely that the clod is above all things soft, it takes the imprint of the ‘cattles feet’, while the pebble is hard, resistant, unchanging (thus an emblem for the soul which cannot change or adapt and cannot fully take on the reality of other people, other minds).
  • Language of ‘binding’ – metaphor for the restriction of freedom, Individuals in the fallen state wish to bind others to them and to bind them down in order to prevent others’ freedom.
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The Tyger

  • The poet addresses ‘the tyger’.
  • He seeks to find out what divine purpose it serves.
  • Can be seen as a contrary to ‘The Lamb’.
  • It asks a question about creation: how can we understand a God who is capable of creating the innocence of the lamb and the fury of the tiger?
  • At the same time Blake is suggesting equivalence between divine creation and the human creation of the artist/poet who ‘frames’ the tyger.
  • Ruled by symmetry: between stanzas, lines, within lines.
  • Lack of symmetry between first and last stanzas, ‘could’ S1, changed to ‘dare’ S6; do we dare to approach the tiger?
  • Tyger portrayed as ‘dread’ beast; dread in English can mean its opposite, both fearsome and fearing.
  • What is being feared here and by whom, and why?
  • What does this tyger represent?
  • Tyger made by/’framed’ God, or the artist/poet.
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  • The ‘untamable’ materials of the imagination with which the artist works may be the ‘wild’ itself (wild nature, the beast ‘out there’), or they may refer to the unconscious within us all, that compound of desires and drives which always and everywhere rises up to upset the attempted rule of ‘framing’ reason.
  • Thus the tyger stands as an emblem for energy, for a power, beyond all framing, control, capture.
  • There is no real possibility of ‘capturing’ the tyger, with pen or with paint.
  • Paradoxically at the same time, the very act of naming the impossibility of capturing the tyger actually captures it, we ‘see’ the tyger, and hear it too: the dull, threatening stamp of the lines, repetition of ‘dread’, these are the incarnation of the tyger’s walk out from the jungle to meet us, the irrepressibility of the tyger within us all.
  • Crux of the poem: S5 à when the stars ‘threw down their spears/And water’d heaven with their tears’, in what mood are they doing that?
  • Are they throwing down their spears attempting to ambush the tyger?
  • Or are they ‘throwing in the towel’, abandoning all hope of divine, angelic supremacy?
  • Who is really in charge here, the ‘stars’ or the tyger?
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  • A natural or an unnatural beast?
  • Natural – for tigers are real, they do exist, and they resist all attempts to tame them.
  • But here, the tyger is unreal too: made a beast, in a quite specific way, for example, made with a hammer, chain and anvil.
  • Thus some critics have been led to see in the tyger a figure for a monster, a specific monster constructed from bits and pieces.
  • All about stability and instability, reason and energy, that which will always exceed our attempt to ‘frame’ a reasonable explanation of life.
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  • The poet walks though the London streets near the River Thames.
  • He hears children and chimney sweeps crying, sees blackened churches, hears whores cursing marriage.
  • Everywhere is evidence of suffering and unhappiness.
  • The world of experience is composed of what Blake sees around him every day in London: a realm of fragmentary sights and sounds, man’s alienation from his fellows, of ‘blights’ and ‘plagues’.
  • The ‘fallen’ world of London is presented, elsewhere in his poetry he presents an idea of London redeemed; but a salvation will always depends on a change of perspective.
  • Repetition of words like ‘mark’ and ‘every’, how these words and other chime through the poem, uniting it whilst suggesting the repetitive quality of life in the city.
  • The description of London amounts to a virtual catalogue of the qualities we might associate with the experience: ‘weakness’, ‘woe’, the ‘cry of fear’, and the ‘blackning’ of the church.
  • We notice, no real purposes are possible, even for the ‘wandering’ narrator.
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  • Auditory and visual power.
  • Cries, voices and ‘bans’ (bans as prohibitions, or banns as the words read out in Church to permit marriage?). The sounds relate to the general scenario of the poem, to the poet’s everyday walk through the streets of London, in which nothing is as it seems, in which everything is estranged from its inner sources.
  • He sees – and ‘marks’, in the doubled sense of ‘noticing’ or ‘remarking upon’ and of ‘marking down on paper’ – these faces, and he sees also a terrible vision, which is of the churches dripping with darkness, the palaces soaked in blood.
  • Blake immediately connects them back to the sources of their grandeur; to the poor and the suffering, to the ‘soldiers’ and the ‘harlots’ who are emblematic victims of the fate of those who live in cities and are cut off from a more natural life, but more importantly wilfully severed from the imaginative vision which alone could provide them with a full understanding of their surroundings.
  • Poem which deals in opposites brought together:
  • In the final lines, where ‘Blasts the new-born tear’ is coupled with ‘blights with plagues the marriage hearse’. What is Blake indicting here? Is it merely the practice of whoredom, or is he bringing into breathtakingly close conjunction the stifling nature of conventional marriage, and the victimisation which attends the lot of the harlot? Emotional plagues, or plagues of venereal diseases?
  • Extended complex image of the poem.
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The Chimney Sweeper

  • A child chimney sweep dreams of paradise.
  • Thus he is able to cope dutifully with his work the following day.
  • They were sold at the age of seven, not clothed, fed or washed, whilst sweeping they were in constant danger of suffocation or burning and cancer of the scrotum caused by the soot. They were encouraged to steal, turned into the street to cry, on the chance of employment or for begging.
  • The difficulty of the poem lies in the identity of the Angel – Blake sometimes associated it with goodness, however as years went by he connected it with a kind of hypocritical self-righteousness. Which is it here?
  • Is it right that Tom Dacre should go happily back to work, or has he been deluded by an entirely false sense of ‘duty’ – misled by his own ‘innocence’.
  • Even the most vulnerable and damaged in society can be convinced – wrongly – that they have a part to play despite their exploitation; does the narrator know this? What is the reader supposed to believe?



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  • Confronts us with a problem concerning the nature of innocence.
  • Setting – resonant – with echoes from the late eighteenth century.
  • Young children were used as chimney sweeps because only they could climb up the narrow chimney sweeps, which needed cleaning.
  •  Life expectancy was low, many who survived were permanently crippled as a result of the work and of the poor food which was all they could afford to eat.
  • Readers are ‘addressed’/interpellated by the poem:
  • One response is pity: we pity the child.
  • What do we think of his advice to colleague Tom Dacre? Are we supposed to think it’s true that if we all simply get on and do what we are told to do, then all will be right with the world?
  • Or do we see the narrator as a ‘victim of innocence’ whom needs to be enlightened by seeing issues of exploitation in their full guise?
  • Blake deliberately poses his poem in the form of a question; is innocence a valuable perspective on the world, or is it instead at the service of manipulation and greed?
  • Recounting Tom’s dream: we to think a naïve, simple religious belief can compensate us for suffering? We to think that if we merely change our attitudes we can enjoy even the most loathsome? We meant to see it with irony, the ways in which religion colludes with other forms of tyranny in offering us false pleasures which merely serve to ensure we do not challenge our masters.
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  • Presence of death. - How do we find this paradise? By looking at the world through transformed eyes? That is does not exist so we see it by closing our eyes to reality and imagining? That it is only on the other side of death? If death, Tom and narrator are deluded by the dream; the only time when we can ‘shine in the sun’ will be after death, which is then too late for change.

  • Our interpretation of the poem will also take into account other factors:
  • Symbolic role of ‘black' and ‘white’.
  • Role of the ‘angel’. In Blake’s work angels are bad news, they stand for the kind of person who believes unquestioningly that right is on their side.
  • May read the poem as an account of those forces that prevent people from an essential and liberating rebellion:
  • Tom is sad at the beginning, then cheered up by the promise of (probably false) reward.
  • Narrator is not innocent, at some level he is aware of the deceptions that form the heart of the poem.
  • A song of innocence (about innocence), not from an innocent standpoint; enabled to present its consolations without subscribing to them.
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  • Addresses questions: ‘‘Your’ chimneys’ à what is the force of this? Compares Tom’s hair to a ‘lambs back’ à significance of this? Death, ‘coffins’ --? Relate to chimneys, fire, smoke? ‘Key’ that the angel has? ‘Want’ à beats 2 meanings: ‘desire’, ‘lack’; difference?
  • Last line: ‘So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm’ - role of proverbs?
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