Blake Poetry

Blake Poetry Verily I say unto you, Whoseover shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein. [S Luke, 18 (17)] The words are those of Jesus, who was neither unaware of reality, nor indifferent to suffering. The childlike innocence referred to above is a state of purity and not of ignorance. Such is the vision of Blake in his childlike Songs of Innocence. It would be foolish to suppose that the author of ^Holy Thursday^ and ^The Chimney Sweeper^ in Songs of Innocence was insensible to the contemporary social conditions of orphans or young sweeps, and that therefore the poems of the same names in Songs of Experience are somehow apologies or retractions of an earlier misapprehension. For the language and style of Songs of Innocence are so consistently nave compared to Songs of Experience, that it is clear that the earlier poems are a deliberate attempt to capture the state of grace described in the Biblical quotation above – a celebration of the triumph of innocence in a world of experience. Often the words of the poem are spoken by a child. It would be impossible to imagine a modern child using language such as: Gave thee such a tender voice, Making all the vales rejoice.

and it is most unlikely that children spoke thus even in Blake^s day. Yet this is the language of children^s hymns. I was personally acquainted with all the words in ^The Lamb^, through Sunday School hymns, long before reaching school age. By using the vocabulary of the hymnals, Blake emphasises for us the connection of which the child is instinctively aware: I, a child, and thou a lamb, We are called by his name. The syntax and tone, however, have the authentic simplicity of children^s speech.

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The first verse is a series of questions addressed to the lamb. The second stanza begins with the child^s triumph at being able to answer those questions: Little Lamb, I^ll tell thee. Typically the questions are asked purely for the satisfaction it gives the child in answering. There is a great deal of repetition in all the songs: in ^The Lamb^ this takes the form of a refrain repeated at the beginning and the end of each stanza, once more reminiscent of children^s hymns. In contrast, ^The Tyger^ has an incantatory rhythm, far more like a pagan chant than a childish hymn. And the vocabulary is no longer within the understanding of a child: What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry? This song also asks questions.

But in the world of experience, unlike the world of innocence, there are no longer any reassuring answers. The world of Innocence is a world of confident answers; in Experience the answers remain. Indeed, the questions themselves become more threatening. The slightly incredulous question above alters subtly during the progress of the poem until the word ^Could^ is finally replaced by the far more menacing ^Dare^. There is no such progression in Songs of Innocence.

Each song captures the ^moment in each day that Satan cannot find^ [Milton, II, Pl.35, 1.42]. Blake^s innocence does not develop: it exists. If we compare Songs of Innocence with Songs of Experience we see that this pattern is constantly repeated. The moment that the concept of Experience is introduced the simplicity of the language disappears. As affirmation gives way to doubt, the unquestioning faith of innocence becomes the intellectual argument of experience. In ^Infant Joy^ the baby is free even of the bonds of a name.

In ^Cradle Song^ it is the mother who speaks, not with the simplicity of ^Infant Joy^ yet with a naivete emphasised by the repetition of key alliterative words – sweet/sleep/smile – with their connotations of joy. In Songs of Innocence moans are ^sweet^ and ^dovelike^ [Cradle song] whereas in Songs of Experience the babies cry in ^fear^ [London}. In Songs of Innocence the narrative is as simple as the direct speech. The verbs are straightforward and unambiguous; God ^appeared^ , He ^kissed^ the child, ^led^ him to his mother. And although the bleaker side of life is portrayed – poverty and discrimination for example – the overall vision is positive.

1. Blake believed that without contraries there could be no progression. In Songs of Experience we see Blake ^walking naked^, to use Yeats^ phrase, as he shouts angrily against social evils and religious manacles and hypocrisy. Songs of Innocence are far more carefully controlled, for all their apparent artlessness. In Songs of Innocence Blake^s voice never falters: the language is consistently nave, and when images of a less childlike nature do intrude they are always absorbed into the security that is innocence.

Innocence is a state of faith that must preclude doubt. Blake^s language is nave and unambiguous. It is deliberately adopted to suit the subject and discarded later in the prophetic books. He may have considered experience as a necessary part of life, but Blake remained, supremely, a poet of Innocence.