On Another's Sorrow: by William Blake - Summary & Analysis

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On Another's Sorrow

Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow’s share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow filled?

Can a mother sit and hear
An infant groan, an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!

And can He who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird’s grief and care,
Hear the woes that infants bear —

And not sit beside the next,
Pouring pity in their breast,
And not sit the cradle near,
Weeping tear on infant’s tear?

And not sit both night and day,
Wiping all our tears away?
Oh no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!

He doth give his joy to all:
He becomes an infant small,
He becomes a man of woe,
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy Maker is not by:
Think not thou canst weep a tear,
And thy Maker is not year.

Oh He gives to us his joy,
That our grief He may destroy:
Till our grief is fled an gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

Summary and Analysis


      Following close on the heels of Saint Matthew's Gospel the poet describes how God is eager to alleviate the sorrow of his beloved. The relevant lines of Matthew's gospel run as follows:

"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"
On Another's Sorrow the prominence of this virtue attains its climax.
On Another's Sorrow

      The very purport of Matthew's idea is ingeniously ramified by Blake. The essence of this idea lies only in lines 1, 2, 13, 21, to 22, and 33 to 36, the remaining lines are, invariably an illustration or repetition. 


      The poem 'On Another's Sorrow' is an illustration of vicarious sufferings between man and man or man and God. These were Christ's vicarious feelings after the tribulations of mankind that urged him to sacrifice himself and shed his own blood for them. It proves that God or Christ cannot be indifferent to the sufferings of human beings. In the world of innocence each one is bound to the other and so they rush to alleviate the sufferings their friends undergo. That is why, as the poet says, we cannot be unconcerned about the woes of our neighbours. We weep with them, feel sorry for them when they are in distress. Similar is the case of a father whose filial bond with his son stirs pain in his heart, when he finds his child sad. No mother can sit unmoved by her child's pain. If the human world is so very mutually interconnected, God's reactions are pretty sizeable. He will invariably go and comfort the child that weeps and the wren that moans. Complex emotions of Christ are projected on the grounds of his revolutionary life and reactions to the world. He weeps and feels sorry for those who plod, and imparts (later) joy to all. Whenever we transpire hot sighs of grief Christ is with us to destroy grief. He is so compassionate with the miserable that he sits with them and weeps until their sorrow is past.

The Divine Virtue of Pity Exposed:

      In 'The Divine Image' we were convinced that 'pity' is one of the divine virtues that helps man rise to the level of God. 'Pity' has been again stressed in 'A Dream'. And in 'On Another's Sorrow' the prominence of this virtue attains its climax. In the realm of innocence 'pity' dominates at large. There every innocent creature, man and God are bound with the same tie, namely mutual pity and compassion. As S.F. Bolt maintains, "in the world which Blake has created by a restriction of the Christian and pastoral traditions, there are no beasts of prey or lust, disease is unknown, and old age only means an access of dignity, not the approach of death. There is no need to exclude sorrow, for sorrow is another's distress. like joy is another's happiness, and is an expression of innocence so long as it does not lead to fearful questioning".

For Blake, as C.M. Bowra says:

      "God and the imagination are one; that is God is the creative and spiritual power in man, and apart from man the idea of God has no meaning. When Blake speaks of the divine, it is with reference to this power and not to any external or independent godhead. So when his songs tell of God's love and care, we must think of them as qualities which men themselves display and in so doing realise their full, divine nature."

Striking Lines:

      Our attention is drawn to the sixth stanza where the poet gives us the whole life-history of Jesus Christ packed compactly in four lines:

"He doth give his joy to all;

He becomes an infant small;

He becomes a man of woe;

He doth feel sorrow too."

      Christ comes on earth as a boy and later, when he grows up, he feels sorry for the sufferings of his fellow men. He takes the pledge to redeem them and begins to propagate the doctrine of Christianity. Christ becomes a man of woe when the Roman soldiers crucify him and his blood is shed for the redemption of mankind. Thus he saves human beings from evil and sin and imparts joy to all.

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