Infant Sorrow: Poem by William Blake - Summary and Analysis

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Infant Sorrow

My mother groaned, my father wept:
Into the dangerous world I leapt,
Helpless, naked, piping loud,
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.

Struggling in my father’s hands,
Striving against my swaddling-bands,
Bound and weary, I thought best
To sulk upon my mother’s breast.

Summary and Analysis


      'Infant Sorrow' is also held as a contrast to 'Infant Joy'. It involves references to the 'Introduction' to the Songs of Innocence. There we see a divine child on a cloud: here, the infant is 'like a fiend hid in a cloud'. There the piping is that of the innocent shepherd, here, it is the screaming of the baby.

The world of 'Experience' welcomes a child of sorrow, who, rather than being a fiend himself is also born into a monstrous world of totems and taboos
Infant Sorrow


      The world of 'Experience' welcomes a child of sorrow, who, rather than being a fiend himself is also born into a monstrous world of totems and taboos. Strange to notice, it is not actually upon the growing boy that the shadows of prison house close; on the other hand, the shadows spread on the infant at the moment of its birth itself. Predictably enough, there is no scope of a 'heaven' lying about its infancy. Its struggle begins from the very moment of its birth, it is choked from the very start of its life and it finds its only rest on its mother's breast. As a contrast to 'Infant Joy' here the child is not a 'joy' but a 'fiend' and neither its mother nor the father (though it is not explicit from Blake's poem) accords a warm welcome to him. The child hides behind the cloud. The speaker is evidently the child himself who laments against life.

The Birth of a Citizen of Blake's London:

      The incapacity to approach psychological truths is one which Blake most effectively attacks in the poem 'Infant Sorrow.' There the child speaks in a voice unsoftened by the usual sentiments. The child is born out of its mother's pain. The pain is accentuated by the misery which the father's tears suggest, a misery which is not only occasioned by the mother's pain. The inhabitants of Blake's world are used to pain in others and can, we deduce, accept it more easily than pain in themselves. The father's tears are perhaps for the extra burden which the child constitutes. At all events it is an unwanted child, a child produced in joylessness, who is speaking. For it the world is immediately dangerous. It is energetic enough to leap into the world, and though helpless and naked, still has primal vitality enough to be a sort of fiend hid in a cloud, which suggests the swaddling bands the child struggles against (as well as the unconsciousness of both child and parent). Feeling itself in a dangerous world, perhaps feeling unwanted, at all events feeling joyless, it strives against its parents, and against the bonds which are immediately applied to it.

      In a short time it learns that struggle is useless. It relinquishes its fiend-like qualities, its energy, really its life force, and bound and weary, finds it politic to resentfully "sulk upon my mother's breast." This is the birth of a representative citizen of Blake's London, as Wolf Mankowitz observes: "It is already in the process of forging its own mental manacles. It can look forward to a life in which Love! Sweet Love! (will be) thought a crime."

The Child - a Passionate Rebel:

      Blake knew that experience is bought at a bitter price not merely in such unimportant things as comfort and peace of mind, but in the highest spiritual values. His Songs of Experience are, as C.M. Bowra says, the poetry of this progres.They tell how what we accept as child like innocence is tested and proved feeble by actual events, how much we have taken for granted is not true of the living world, how every noble desire may be debased and perverted. When he sings of this process, he is no longer the piper of pleasant glee but an angry passionate rebel. In 'Infant Sorrow' he provides a counterpart to passionate rebel. In 'Infant Sorrow' he provides a counterpart to his 'Introduction' and shows that even in the very beginnings of childhood there is a spirit of unrest and revolt. At the start of its existence the human creature feels itself a prisoner and, after its first efforts to resist, angrily gives up the struggle."

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