Songs of Experience: Introduction - Summary and Analysis

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Songs of Experience Introduction

Hear the voice of the Bard,
Who present, past, and future, sees;
Whose ears have heard
The Holy Word
That walked among the ancient tree;

Calling the lapsed soul,
And weeping in the evening dew;
That might control
The starry pole,
And fallen, fallen light renew!

‘‘O Earth, O Earth, return!
Arise from out the dewy grass!
Night is worn,
And the morn
Rises from the slumbrous mass.

‘‘Turn away no more;
Why wilt thou turn away?
The starry floor,
The watery shore,
Are given thee till the break of day.’’

Summary and Analysis


      It is undisputed that Blake has adhered to unambiguous symbolism and lucid language in Songs of Innocence primarily on account of the fact that they are motivated to please the children. So they are very easy to follow. On the other hand the poems in the Songs of Experience are rather ambiguous and thus somewhat puzzling, whilst Blake was designing his Songs of Experience, he was also busy on his earlier Prophetic Books. In these books, Blake was setting up a system of symbols and mythology of his own of which we find vindication in the 'Songs'.

      It is these private symbols and personal terms of mythology that pose a hindrance between the reader and the work. The diction and syntax often carry such meanings as are unthought of; however they never efface the original meanings or associations the words may normally have. So it is quite natural that a reader who takes himself to both these levels of appreciation, finds the poem all the more appealing.The Songs of Experience is not as incomprehensible as the Prophetic Books though the private symbols and other structural ambiguities are there. In his Songs of Experience Blake is concerned with the soul of man with its struggle to escape from being overpowered by 'Reason' and other oppressive agents.

It is undisputed that Blake has adhered to unambiguous symbolism and lucid language in Songs of Innocence primarily on account of the fact that they are motivated to please the children. So they are very easy to follow. On the other hand the poems in the Songs of Experience are rather ambiguous and thus somewhat puzzling, whilst Blake was designing his Songs of Experience, he was also busy on his earlier Prophetic Books
Songs of Experience

      In Blake's 'Introduction' to the Songs of Experience we identify the speaker as a bard. The Bard like an ancient prophet (such as John the Baptist) catches the message of God. The message is that in case mankind listens to the call of the 'Holy Word' a fresh dawn of felicity will spurt up. Man has 'lapsed' or fallen from his erstwhile original happy state into the slough of despondency and misery just as Adam and Eve happened to fall down on being expelled from the Garden of Eden. Now it is only the children who enjoy the preparation or pre-fall atmosphere of happiness and innocence. It is noteworthy that the Bard's words are not in the spontaneous tone of the Piper's in Songs of Innocence.


      The first two lines of Stanza I ascertain the prophetic nature of the Bard. He is speaking to carth. The 'Bard' or poet is one who lives not in the world of 'Time' but in the world of eternity. So he sees present, past and future as God sees them. For Browning, poet is the 'maker whereas for Blake he is the blessed and mighty 'Seer'. His superhuman ears can make out the message of the 'Holy' words which stand for God can control the cosmos and planets and can even renovate and revamp the sunken light the sun. Highlighting the powers of Almighty God the Bard turns to address Earth and encourages her to return. The Bard urges Earth to rise up from the devitalizing and dewy inertia. The night is ephemeral and the dawn will emerge bright shedding her sleeply ineptitude. But viewing the Earth turn her back on his incitements the poet asks her not to be defiant. The night lasts only until the break of the day, and only so long shall the earth be in the clutches of the oppressing night.

      Man is on the shores of Eternity and the land is starlit. The possible way to Eternity through which he can reach his prefall nature is offered to him. God has been kind towards man even when man thwarted his orders. God has driven out man to earth but he has let him have no death and no worse miseries than that. It was this very God who, as it is shown in Paradise Lost, hurled the rebelling an gels into the river of boiling sulphur in Hell. But man must strive; Earth's return or soul's return is a return from the states of 'lapsed', 'dewy', 'night', 'worn', 'slumberous mass'. 'Starry floor', and at last 'watery shore.

The Sexual Connotation:

      The last two stanzas of 'Introduction' give us the picture of Earth as insensitive and negligent towards the call of the Bard. This is further interpreted on the ground of sexual imagery. Earth, based on this view, represents the beloved who neglects the provocation of her lover. She does not respond warmly. She does not appear a pleasant woman emerged from her dewy inertia with a redoubled enthusiasm. She seems to be an old lazy woman who maintains a loveless relationship with her lover.

The Holly Word that Walked:

      It is difficult to draw any line of demarcation to distinguish the Bard from God. The Bard like God foresees the future and he is as well aware of the present and past. Christ, when he finds man evicted from Eden, weeps for them and walks through the Garden calling for Adam and Eve. In the same way the Bard, or say the prophet, endeavours to awaken the sleepy Earth. Now darkness and night envelop Earth; but the Bard asserts its instability and the assured advent of dawn. This may help Earth turn to the way of light and regain its lost splendour. The words of the Bard as is evident from the poem are not simply human. They are words of a prophet, blessed with the power to divine and prophesy things from his superhuman intuition.

The Myth-making Poet:

      Analogous to the call of Christ to the lapsed soul, the Bard of 'Introduction' to Songs of Experience lets out his call at doomed Earth. Both the lapsed soul and Earth are sinful and foredoomed to grope in darkness. Christ as the Son of God descends on Earth and redeems mankind. The Bard also utters his inspired words to bring Earth on to the path of light. In the latter case the poet is proved ingenious in myth-making. The myth of his private world is conjured up to support his vision, but its roots lie deep in the Christian mythology.

      Ambiguities Some lines of Introduction' to Songs of Experience are clouded in ambiguity, For example in the second stanza:

"Calling the lapsed soul
And weeping in the evening dew."

      Have at least two possible interpretations. It may be either the Bard who calls the lapsed soul and weeps over the tribulations of man: or it may be Christ who calls to the lapsed soul of Adam who is driven out of heaven, for eating the forbidden fruit. Again, "That might control," we doubt if the subject is Christ or the Bard. It can also be the "Lasped soul.",

      Another ambiguous stanza is the last one in which the poet writes:

"The starry floor.

The watery shore.

Is given thee till the break of day."

      These lines can have two possible implications. First they may mean that though it is not yet dawn, there are signs favouring man's reawakening in the light of stars: the inhabitants of Earth are on the shores of the sea of Eternity. Another implication is that the star of the starry floor and the water of the 'watery shore' associations with 'Night'. Blake may be saying that night's tyranny is fickle and temporary and soon the dawn may break.

      By and large the idea of the poem can be summarised as follows. Mankind is in a lapsed state. They are devoid of their prefall Eden. But they need not be desperate because if they strive they can bring about a new epoch of God's grace and a new dawn of divine benediction.


      'Introduction' to Songs of Experience is as allegorical as Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Here, Blake is chiefly concerned with the conflict of Reason on one side and Imagination and Energy on the other. In his books, these are represented by three giants Urizen, Los and Arc. Los is the Imagination. He appears as the Bard. The purpose of introducing the Bard is to reveal the word of God to man, and often instead of the Bard, Blake seems to have used Christ as the divine Imagination. Besides, dew and water symbolise materialism and forest of trees and sleep are associated with the state of experience. Grass and leaves Suggest flesh.

      If we venture to analyse the poem based on the symbols we can put it this way: the bard hears the voice of Christ (or Imagination) through a divine message. The 'ancient trees' are the forests of experience. The soul of man is sunk in dew, that is, materialism. Stars are the followers of Urizen that represent Reason. Until the sun rises men must suffer Urizen's tyranny. Moreover, human beings are in pursuit of worldly things which nourish not their spiritual aspect but their bodily pleasures. So 'grass' as Blake puts it is flesh (all flesh is grass) and 'morn' is the symbol of regeneration and reawakening.

      "Tamaso Majyotir Gamaya". In brief what the Bard expostulates is what in Sanskrit means: "Let the night and darkness be gone, let there be light everywhere". Here as in Blake's poem night and darkness symbolise ignorance, miseries and misfortunes. The light is the light of knowledge that guides man to the ultimate truth of things and hence to the supreme joy.

A Difficult Poem:

      Apart from its embarrassing ambiguity Blake's poem 'Introduction' to Songs of Experience also abounds in chaotic punctuation. For example a reader who comes through the first, third and fourth stanzas finds much to confuse him. These three stanzas frame up an invitation to Earth for its resuscitation and renovation from its evil darkness to regain its prelapsarian state. But is it so simple? Again we see from the first stanza of the poem that it refers to Genesis. There the speaker is the Old Testament God, Jehovah, who in Blake's cosmos functioned as the cruel lawgiver and vindictive tyrant, the father-priest-king image. And finally, in Genesis, the, 'Holy Word' walks in the Garden not in the 'evening dew' but in the 'cool of the day', not to sympathise and condone but to drive out and curse his children, to fling them to soil and to make woman slave to man. On this ground if the second stanza is read as one modifying (or attached to) 'The Holy Word', we are doomed to take it in a hopelessly contradictory or ironic sense.

      There are actually two voices in the poem. They are the Bard's voice and the voice of the 'Holy Word'. The Holy Word's voice is evident in the call to the lapsed soul and that of the Bard is in Hear the voice of the Bard. Both these voices should be taken as modified by the second stanza. The last two stanzas also belong to both these voices. it is evidently a poem in which the 'Holy Word' of the Old Testament God, Jehova, is insincere, selfish and envious. But the Bard, on the contrary, is prophetically imaginative, and abides by eternal time and eternal values.

Innocence Wedded to Experience:

      The poem 'Introduction' to Songs of Experience is the first in the series. How exactly does it differ from 'Introduction' to Songs of Innocence? The fact is that there is a gradual, step-by-step development of the poet's thought from the smoother stuff to the harder. Though 'Introduction' is the precursor of the following songs of experience it is not exclusively void of 'innocence'. It is most agreeable and convincing to say that here in this poem's. 'Introduction' both innocence and experience exist together. Innocence is incomplete unless it is coupled with wisdom and therefore 'innocence' is not just that of the Songs of Innocence, but something which has gained knowledge from the ugly lessons of experience and found an expanding strength in the unfettered life of the creative soul. From the preceding poems of 'Innocence' we find out that Christ, lamb and the child represent innocence. But see what Blake says in another context:

The wrath of lion is the wisdom of God.

      The 'wrath' is the link by which the poet hopes to unite innocence (Christ) and experience in an amazing synthesis.

      Based on this argument we can analyse the poem easily. At presenta canopy of darkness and dew hangs over Earth. But the light of Innocence is very near and in this light both 'Innocence and Experience' are transformed and soul (Earth) turns in its cyclic motion to a complete, energetic and vigorous life in the creative imagination. Now Earth or soul is fettered in dew, and is benighted, but Earth can gain knowledge (knowledge represented by the morn that rises from the slumberous mass) only from the ugly lessons of experience (represented by night, dew, stars and water). Earth has already gone under her ugly lessons, she is fallen. She is bound to the soul and she is in the dark. But the act of unfettering the creative soul is accomplished by the dawn that may break immediately.

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