Blake

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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 ^ÑHoly
Thursday^Ò and ^ÑThe Chimney Sweeper^Ò 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 naïve 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^Òs day. Yet this is the language of children^Òs hymns. I was
personally acquainted with all the words in ^ÑThe Lamb^Ò, 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^Òs
speech. The first verse is a series of questions addressed to the lamb. The
second stanza begins with the child^Òs triumph at being able to answer
those questions: Little Lamb, I^Òll 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 ^ÑThe Lamb^Ò this
takes the form of a refrain repeated at the beginning and the end of each
stanza, once more reminiscent of children^Òs hymns. In contrast, ^ÑThe
Tyger^Ò 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 ^ÑCould^Ò
is finally replaced by the far more menacing ^ÑDare^Ò. There is no
such progression in Songs of Innocence. Each song captures the ^Ñmoment in
each day that Satan cannot find^Ò Milton, II, Pl.35, 1.42. Blake^Òs
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 ^ÑInfant
Joy^Ò the baby is free even of the bonds of a name. In ^ÑCradle
Song^Ò it is the mother who speaks, not with the simplicity of ^ÑInfant
Joy^Ò 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 ^Ñsweet^Ò and ^Ñdovelike^Ò Cradle
song whereas in Songs of Experience the babies cry in ^Ñfear^Ò
London}. In Songs of Innocence the narrative is as simple as the direct speech.

The verbs are straightforward and unambiguous; God ^Ñappeared^Ò , He
^Ñkissed^Ò the child, ^Ñled^Ò 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 ^Ñwalking
naked^Ò, to use Yeats^Ò 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^Òs voice never falters: the language is consistently