William Blake Poety : Songs of Innocence and Experience:

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Introduction - Innocence.

  • Innocene:"A cloud I saw a child, / And he said laughing to me". "Pipe a song about a Lamb!"
  • Children: "He wept to hear" "he wept with Joy to hear"
  • Creation - Lear's vision of the innocence. "And I wrote my happy songs/ Every child may joy to hear".
  • Nature: "Piping down the valleys wild". "lamb" "I made a rural pen,/ And I stained the water clear".

Form:

  • Five quatrains, some of which follow the heroic stanza form. The rhyme scheme of the “Introduction” varies depending upon the stanza. Stanzas 1 and 4 follow the traditional ABAB pattern, while stanzas 2, 3, and 5 use an ABCB pattern.
  • The first and fourth stanzas begin with “Piping” and the noun form “Piper,” juxtaposing the musical nature of the speaker with the most musical rhymes of the poem.

Structure:

  • The metre is trochaic (stressed, unstressed) and ends with a stressed syllable. This gives it a positive-sounding tone
  • The pattern of repeated ‘So' and then ‘And' suggests the child-like simplicity of the piper:
  • The repetition of ‘So' suggests his obedience - he is asked to act, so he does so
  • The repetition of ‘and' in connecting sentences is characteristic of a young child's way of writing and emphasises the absence of any complexity
  • It enhances the impression that the voice of the poem as that of a child.

 

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Introduction Innocence continued

Criticism:

stain'd the water clear- Critics have argued over the implications of this:

  • Read at a literal level, it would merely refer to the colouring of the water to make ink.
  • Some have seen negative conotations in "stain'd"; the piper is destroying the clear purity of the water in making ink to write - hypocritical of Blake - Experience inevitable?
  • Poet's corruption of purity of the poet's vision by the act of writing e.e. that any attempt at poetic comminication is a distortion of reality. - Reader should therefore approach poem with this in mind.

Language:

The vocabulary is restricted and simple – ‘piping', ‘happy', ‘merry', ‘pleasant', ‘glee', ‘laughing', ‘joy'. This simplicity is heightened by repetition of a few words – ‘pipe', ‘piper', ‘piping', ‘chear', ‘happy'. This all suggests an experience of simple, unalloyed happiness. Nothing negative is allowed to darken the atmosphere. It establishes the voiceof the poem as that of a child.

 

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The Lamb

  • Child's point of view/ personna / dramatic monologue.
  • About the origins of the world/ creation. - Religion. - The Lamb represents Jesus.
  • Innocence.
  • Children.
  • The poem is a child’s song, in the form of a question and answer. The first stanza is rural and descriptive, while the second focuses on abstract spiritual matters and contains explanation and analogy.

Form:

  • The poem’s apostrophic form contributes to the effect of naiveté, since the situation of a child talking to an animal is a believable one, and not simply a literary contrivance. Yet by answering his own question, the child converts it into a rhetorical one, thus counteracting the initial spontaneous sense of the poem. The answer is presented as a puzzle or riddle, and even though it is an easy one—child’s play—this also contributes to an underlying sense of ironic knowingness or artifice in the poem. The child’s answer, however, reveals his confidence in his simple Christian faith and his innocent acceptance of its teachings.

Structure:

  • 2 Stanzas each containing 5 rhyming couplets.
  • Repetition in the first and last couplet of each stanza makes these lines into a refrain, and helps to give the poem its song-like quality. The flowing l’s and soft vowel sounds (assonance) contribute to this effect, and also suggest the bleating of a lamb or the lisping character of a child’s chant.
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The Lamb II

Commentary:

  • Blake invites his audience to use the image of the 'Lamb' as a means of asking questions about creation. "Who made thee?"- Although a normal childish question, Blake intends to question to people of all times and a remainder to those sunk in trivials of war and industrial labour that there remains a more lliberated and natural world if we allow ourselves to see. "Cleanse" our "doors" of perception.
  • "I a Child and thou a lamb" - has Blake become a child? - Connects adults with childhood.
  • The Lamb” takes the pastoral life of the lamb and fuses it with the Biblical symbolism of Jesus Christ as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
  • By using poetic rhetorical questions, the speaker, who is probably childlike rather than actually a child, creates a sort of lyric catechism in which the existence of both a young boy and a tender lamb stand as proof of a loving, compassionate Creator.
  • The lamb stands in relation to the boy as the boy stands in relation to his elders; each must learn the truth of his existence by questioning the origin of his life and inferring a Creator who possesses the same characteristics of gentleness, innocence, and loving kindness as both the lamb and the child . - Links with 'The Tiger'.
  • The Creator, here identified specifically as Jesus Christ by his title of “Lamb of God,” displays these characteristics in his design of the natural and human world, and in His offer of salvation to all (hence the child is also “called by his name”) through his incarnation (“he became a little child”) and presumably his death and resurrection.
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The Blossom

  • Nature       -Blossom = growth and potential - Bird: nature and freedom
  • Animals       
  • Innocence
  •  'innocent love' as represented in the first stanza and the 'harmful' restrictive love of the second stanza. The lack of an ordered rhyme scheme represents the arbitrary and unpredictable attitude of nature. The actual act of intercourse occurs between the two stanzas and this had lead to red breasted robin - redbreast=broken heart - to be 'sobbing' as a result of the experience. Blake was against the oppression of free love and interlinks the act of sex with nature to show its innocence

The poem suggests that innocence exists in a world that includes reasons for sobbing and for compassion of which it is quite ignorant. The fragility of the blossom represents the fragility of innocence when it is also ignorant.

Sexual awakening

  • This theme is developed in the companion poem from the Songs of Experience, The Sick Rose. Where the (possible) awakening here is innocent, in that poem it is potentially destructive.
  • AO4: Blake against oppression of 'free-love'
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The Chimney Sweeper - Innocence

  • A child Chimney Sweep dreams of paradise, thus he is able to cope dutifully with his work the following day.
  • six quatrains, each following the AABB rhyme scheme, with two rhyming couplets per quatrain.

Key Themes & Devices:

  • Rhyme: AABB - Chid's nursery rhyme. When my mother died i was very young/ And my father sold me while yet my tongue" - Blake's anger at social injustice and exploited children.
  • Enjambment: "Yet my tongue/ could scarcely cry 'Weep! Weep! Weep! Weep!" - emphasis,
  • Dramatic Monologue: Voice of a child; evokes pity from audience. "I" - personal.
  • HyperboleL "Weep!" "Tom was sleeping, he had such a sight!"
  • Dialogue: ""Hush, Tom! Never mind it..." - Comfort.
  • Juxtaposition of light and dark: "the soot cannot spoil your white hair" - Staining of innocence
  • Alliteration: "leaping, laughing"
  • Nature: "down a green plain, leaping, laughing, they run/ and wash in a river". -Freedom.
  • Religion: "by came an angel, who had a bright key"  "He'd have god for his father/ and never want joy."
  • Children: "naked and white, all their bags left behind,/ they rise upon the clouds"
  • Innocence: "who cried when his head/ that curled like a lamb's back when shaved".
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The Chimney Sweeper Commentary

  • Blake decries the use of promised future happiness as a way of subduing the oppressed. The boys carry on with their terrible, probably fatal work because of their hope in a future where their circumstances will be set right. This same promise was often used by those in power to maintain the status quo so that workers and the weak would not unite to stand against the inhuman conditions forced upon them. As becomes more clear in Blake's Songs of Experience, the poet had little patience with palliative measures that did nothing to alter the present suffering of impoverished families.
  • Social problem linking to exploitment of children in 18th century -W.H. Stevenson "constant danger of suffocating or burning.
  •  sharp criticism of a culture that would perpetuate the inhuman conditions of chimney sweeping on children. Tom Dacre (whose name may derive from “Tom Dark,” reflecting the sooty countenance of most chimney sweeps) is comforted by the promise of a future outside the “coffin” that is his life’s lot. Clearly, his present state is terrible and only made bearable by the two-edged hope of a happy afterlife following a quick death.
  • Blake here critiques not just the deplorable conditions of the children sold into chimney sweeping, but also the society, and particularly its religious aspect, that would offer these children palliatives rather than aid. That the speaker and Tom Dacre get up from the vision to head back into their dangerous drudgery suggests that these children cannot help themselves, so it is left to responsible, sensitive adults to do something for them.
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Chimney Sweeper III

  • "your Chimney's I sweep" - Directs the audience - Possesive pronoun.
  • Adjectives throughout "little" , "young" "lamb" "naked" - innocence.
  • "was shaved" - stripped of his freedom and innocence.
  • Almost like a story time nursey rhyme.
  • Pure and heavenly image of the dream - Sombre pace.
  • Childhood innocence destroyed by adults.
  • Internal rhyme "amd so he was quiet, and that very night".
  • "They rise upon the clouds, and sport in the wind" - natural elements -senses - nature sets you free.- dream - escapism for urban hell.
  • "Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm" - Warmth of faith.
  • "So, If all do their duty, they need not fear harm". - Moral lesson of Bible to help thy neighbour.
  • CONTEXT: Blake was a philantorphis; Industrial Revolutio; Radical feelilng of uprisings and need for reform.
  • Child who narrates the Song from Innocence unable to comprehend the world in which he finds himself. innocence a much more frightening state than experience. Experience knows his position is one of ‘misery’ and angrily berates society for it. Like the child of Innocence he cries ‘weep weep’ and Blake again puns on the similarity of sound between ‘weep’ and ‘sweep’. Experience knows this life has been forced upon him and he realises that he has been ‘taught’ the language of the sweep’s sorrowful life. Unlike innocence, Blake suggests that experience is a state of knowledge and control. 
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The Little Boy Lost

  • A child loses sight of  his father in the night mist, following the will-o-wisp he walks into the fen. - Use of myths to appeal to children / young at heart/ nostalgia, emphasise innocence and how faith comforts you and restores your worries to the light.
  • "Father, Father, Where are we going?" -Repition and questioning emphasises anxiety and fear.
  • Image of night and darkness reflects the corruption of darkened urban cities.
  • Hyperbolic tone "O do not walk so fast!" - Children need guidance. 
  • Neglect and lack of attention "speak father, speak to your little boy" - AO3: Critics argue that the child has lost faith in god due to the hell faced by explotment and is looking for guidence of religion.
  • "The night was dark, no father was there" - God doesn't protect you in darkest hour.
  • "The mire was deep, and the child did weep" - internal rhyme emphasises sorrow.
  • Personification "away the vavpour flew". - Naivety of child following the wisp. Even the"vapour" that might have provided him with some light disappears, so he is left alone in total darkness.
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The Little Boy Lost II

  • Form:
  • two equal stanzas of four lines each. This form is used for many children's poems and nursery rhymes.
  • Rhyme You can see that all four stanzas have the same rhyme scheme - with rhymes at the end of lines 2 and 4, and internal rhymes in the third line of each stanza:"The mire was deep, and the child did weep".
  • This simple rhyme scheme is typical of nursery rhymes and other types of children's verse. It reinforces the simple, child-like feel of the poetry, and helps to make the stanzas memorable.
  • Erratic Rhyme reflects panic of the child -ABCD ABCB (although it is possible line 2's “fast” is a slant rhyme with line 4's “lost,” making the first stanza ABCB)
  • Rhythm Each stanza has a stress-pattern of four stresses in lines 1 and 3, and three stresses in lines 2 and 4. Each line consists of 4 or 3 metric feet - groups of stressed and unstressed syllables - like this: "The night ¦ was dark, ¦ no fath er ¦ was there" "The child ¦ was wet ¦ with dew"
  • This type of metre,  is called iambic. not  regular - sometimes there are three syllables instead of two, sometimes the stress is on the first syllable instead of the last - the overall effect is of an underlying sing-song beat, combined with the irregular stress-pattern of ordinary conversation. This makes the poetry's sound pattern more interesting.
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The Little Boy Lost III

  • 1srt Stanza written in 1st person. So we 'hear' the little boy's pleas to his father. It is dramatic: we are immediately involved with what is happening, and this makes the boy's plight seem more desperate.
  • Then the poems are written in the third person. This initially adds to our anxiety about the child: if he is not speaking any more, what has happened to him? Rassured in The Little Boy Found, because we trust the 'storyteller' poet, who knows what has happened.
  • The last word of stanza 1 is "lost"- senseof foreboding, especially when we do not hear the answer from the father that we may have been expecting. We are horrified that the father leaves the child. We do not know whether he loses him accidentally in the dark night, or on purpose. Either way, he is not fulfilling his duties as a parent.
  • Stanza 2 uses simple statements - ("The night was dark", "no father was there") - to show the abandoned child's terrifying situation. We know he weeps. The danger has increased: he is wet and cold, surrounded by swamps, and the phosphorescent "vapour" that may have provided him with some light disappears. All is dark.
  • The poem is extremely simple, and does not use effects like alliteration oronomatopoeia. Instead, Blake used short words - mostly of only one syllable - and a simple iambic rhythm to create a song-like feel.
  • There is some use of repetition in stanza 1 of "The Little Boy Lost" to dramatise the little boy's pleas. "Father, father, where are you going? Oh do not walk so fast! Speak, father, speak to your little boy Or else I shall be lost."
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Little Boy Lost IV

Imagery 

  • In general, Blake makes very little use of imagery - or devices like similes andmetaphors - in his poetry. His language is very simple and, instead of images, he tends to use symbols to create meaning.
  • "The little boy lost in the lonely fen..." -  The boy is portrayed as a little boy three times in the two poems  This emphasises his innocence and vulnerability. 
  • "The night was dark, no father was there..." - In the first poem the father seems to abandon his child; yet in the second poem God is the father-figure who saves the child. Can these two opposite attitudes be reconciled?
  • AO3:Blake used symbols to express the ideas that were most important to him.
  • It could even be that we need to re-evaluate our view of the father in The Little Boy Lost. Perhaps the father in the first poem symbolises God, too. He"loses" his child because the child is not paying attention and falls into despair. But he then provides a light to lead the child back once he has learnt his lesson. Are we like children who do not listen to what God is telling us, become "lost" in our lives, and approach moral and spiritual"darkness"? If so, the message of the poems is that we must not despair, because God will find us and help us again. The poems could be a reminder to us about how we lead our lives.
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The Little Boy Found

The little boy is rescued by God from the confusions and danger symbolised by will-o-wisp - returned to the saftey of his weeping mother. Strangely, she was searching for him in the dale, not the fen. This could be interpreted as meaning she was in the wrong place and would not have found him without God's help.

Structure:

  • 2 equal Quatrains - nursery rhym feel. -Iambic - Stresses importance of God "Began to cry, but God, Ever nigh".
  • Narrator. - 3rd person. 
  • Image of purity "light" "white" - goodness in stark juxtaposition to 'The Little Boy Lost'.
  • God is loving like a father "kissed the boy" - faith guides you out of darkness.
  • "sorrow Pale" - mother is experienced - stresses her worries.
  • A child needs maternal care.
  • The poem is extremely simple, and does not use effects like alliteration oronomatopoeia. Instead, Blake used short words - mostly of only one syllable - and a simple iambic rhythm.
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The Little Boy Found II

Language:

  • The title  gives us optimism, despite the fact that the first line reiterates the boy's plight: "lost in the lonely fen"
  • "Led by the wand'ring light". Which raises an interesting question: is he lost because he followed the wandering light away from his father, or is the light at the end of the last poem, which we thought had vanished, now leading him on?
  • The boy is still crying, but the figure of God appears to him. He is apparently a real figure, dressed in white - to some, the colour of purity.
  • Who is "weeping" in the last line? At first glance it is the mother, but could it also be the boy?
  •  "wand'ring light", which becomes brighter when God appears "in white". Through this simple juxtaposition of darkness and light, Blake wants to make us feel that being lost is like being denied the light; while being found is like having light shining down upon us once again.
  • "But God, ever nigh..." Blake reminds us that (in his opinion) God is always near. He wants us to see God as dependable and trustworthy. However, God is "like his father" - the father who left his own son (Jesus) behind in the "mire"!
  • AO3: Could the "wand'ring light" (line 2) have been intended to lead the boy to God, in the same way that the light of a star is said to have led the wise men to Jesus? Light is a symbol of goodness, as it counters the 'evil' dark.
  • Caring mother contrasts with bad father in Lost.
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Holy Thursday

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