Features: of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience

Also Read

      The Poetic Beauty of Songs Blake's Songs is a collection of myriad pictures, lovely at its surface and deeply meaningful at its depth. They loom large in an appropriate environment of equally spiritual form and hue. At one level the effect is that of an angelic voice singing to oaten pipe, such as Arcadians tell of, or as if a spiritual magician were summoning before our eyes, through a human medium, images and scenes of divine loveliness; and in the pauses of the strains we seem to catch the rustling of angelic wings. His poems have unity and mutual relationship.

Only Blake, with his pure heart and his simple exalted character, could have transfigured a common place meeting of charity children at St. Paul's into a grand and tender picture. The bold images of the first, second and third stanzas of this poem are so much appealing. How vocal is the poem 'Spring'. Even more remarkable is the poem entitled 'The Lamb' - a sweet hymn of tender infantile sentiment aptly represented by the perennial image of meekness to which the fierce eloquence of 'The Tyger' in the Songs of Experience is an antitype. Of lyrica beauty, take as a sample 'The Laughing Song' with its merry ring of innocent voices. The delicate simplicity of the little pastoral 'The Shepherd' and the picturesqueness in a warmer hue, the delightful domesticity, the expressive melody of 'The Echoing Green', and the lovely sympathy and piety which irradiate the touching 'Cradle Song' are all the gems that add to the beauty of Blake's poetic rendering.
William Blake

      Only Blake, with his pure heart and his simple exalted character, could have transfigured a common place meeting of charity children at St. Paul's into a grand and tender picture. The bold images of the first, second and third stanzas of this poem are so much appealing. How vocal is the poem 'Spring'. Even more remarkable is the poem entitled 'The Lamb' - a sweet hymn of tender infantile sentiment aptly represented by the perennial image of meekness to which the fierce eloquence of 'The Tyger' in the Songs of Experience is an antitype. Of lyrica beauty, take as a sample 'The Laughing Song' with its merry ring of innocent voices. The delicate simplicity of the little pastoral 'The Shepherd' and the picturesqueness in a warmer hue, the delightful domesticity, the expressive melody of 'The Echoing Green', and the lovely sympathy and piety which irradiate the touching 'Cradle Song' are all the gems that add to the beauty of Blake's poetic rendering.

      Systematic Grouping Blake grouped his Songs af Innocence and Experience under two chief titles - 'Songs of Innocence' and 'Songs of Experience' and there is visible discrepancies between the two groups. Keeping in view Blake's description that they are two groups "showing the two contrary states of the human soul," we sense the contrariety in them, and this fact is further supported by another of the poet's maxim; "without Contraries there is no progression." His Songs of Innocence is pervaded with the simplest wreaths and smell of the fields rather than incense, where almost all the singing is done by clear children's voices to the briefest and least complex tunes. There we find a pure cadence of verse, rapid ring and flow of lyric laughter, sweet and unerring choice of the just word and figure and an impeccable simplicity. If the Songs of Innocence have the shape and smell of leaves or buds, the Songs of Experience have in them the light and sound of fire or the sea. The section of Innocence lets out the pleasant odour of the blossoms whereas in Experience these give the distilled perfume and extracted blood of the veins in the rose-leaf, the sharp, liquid, intense spirit crushed out of the broken kernel in the fruit. The Songs of Innocence signify freedom and liberty, whereas in the Songs of Experience we find chains, manacles and iron-rods. This is the very architectural order in which the poet has systematised his thoughts.

      The Aptness of Devices: The two groups, as we have already seen, indicate the state of innocence and its negation respectively. This state of innocence is highly creative and imaginative. There, as well as in the adjacent section of Experience the poet depicts his visions which provide him inspiration and sustenance for his creative poetic genius. But at the level of experience human beings are not entirely and hopelessly unredeemable, there is hope of redemption as it is implied in the call of the Bard. Now, there arises the problem of the medium. How can these visions be conveyed? If he were writing commonplace intellectual essays, it would have been easy for Blake to pour them straightforward in prose passages. But visions depicted in naked form will be abstruse. So the poet turned to symbols, allegories and metaphors which could materialise his abstract visions. Still it remains doubtful if the poet has been wholly successful in disentangling the intricate warp and woof - the meaning of his poems.

      Thematic Resemblance: We cannot readily admit that the part of Innocence and the part of Experience display an inflexible homogeneity in terms of their subject matter. Concerning the latter section of Experience this may be more or less true. But in the former part of Innocence we trace repression and resistance, especially in the Litle Black Boy and The Chimney Sweeper. These elements are convincingly intenser and more visible at the close of Innocence and the justification for this overlapping is, as A.C. Swinburne maintains, that the "last of the Songs of Innocence is a prelude to these poems (of 'Experience'); in it the poet summons to judgement the young and single-spirited, that by right of the natural impulse of delight in them they may give sentence against the preachers of convention and assumption.." Coming to the other section of Experience we may justifiably hold that in each single unit of these poems that constitute the whole, there is repression, resistance and retarding forces in one form or other.

      Blake's Medium of Expression: Considering the two sections of Innocence and Experience as a single entity we may now come to Blake's medium of expression. Blake's verses (with regard to the Songs of Innocence and Experience are meant for children and this fact encourages their depiction in nursery rhymes. However he incorporated, admirably and laudably, the most sublime philosophical thoughts and truth's into it, scarcely harassing the poetic structure and doing, at the same time, justice to his intellectual ideas and complex visionary gleams. It is in this critical and praiseworthy aspect that Blake cuts an eminent figure among the other poets of English literature. The limited vocabulary was an ingredient which proved unfavourable to him on his way towards the goal of finding expression to his thoughts. So quite naturally, the poet sought the assistance of symbols, allegories and metaphors for transforming his abstract visionary images into concrete, matter of fact bodily things which might help the reader follow his ways of thought. This predicament is not solely confined to him; it has been a snare for all the eminent poets of intuitive visions, such as Dante and Bunyan. If Dante was helped by the beatific vision of Beatrice and his Latin poet master Virgil, Blake was led by his visions of angels. Again, banished and abandoned. Dante allied himself with the poetic device of allegory and wandered through the horrible worlds of hell, and, later, heaven. He wove political allegory with religious under tones and struck the note of spiritualism and good and evil. But so far as Blake is concerned, in the face of grim realities and evils he could not help avoiding his complex methods of conveying meaning ('London.' "The Chimney Sweeper") and thought. This is undeniably true especially when we come to see the poet's description of contemporary facts and events.

      Pastoralism: The reason why Blake accepted pastoralism to embroider the background of his poems can be partly due to the influence of Romantic tradition which asserted the significance of nature in poetry. Major practitioners of pastoralism such as Spenser and Milton were there before the poet as models; moreover the bucolic beauty would have been the aptest and finest canvas on which the spiritual visions and elements of innocence could be painted more coherently, eloquently and expediently. In 'Introduction' to the Songs of Innocence, and in the other poems such as The Echoing Green, The Lamb, 'Laughing Song' and 'Spring' the poet has sought the help of pastoralism. But the remarkable singularity of Blake's pastoralism is that it is religious, textured in a Christian vein of divinity and heavenliness. There we see not merely the sheep and the shepherd but also angels on the cloud and young children shouting and sporting. These greeneries and pastures are as exquisite and picturesque as those of the 'Raphaelite' poets such as Dante, Gabriel, Rossetti. But there are points which replace these felicitous pastures and show, instead, the marshy lands where the Lost Boy is sinking down. In Blake's poems pastoral setting has often an additional function; rather than being simply a setting it attires itself in symbolism to propel the main theme of the poetry.

      Symbolism: As a general guide to Blake's principal symbols the following list given by F.W. Bateson can be helpful. There are Innocence symbols (pre sexual and amoral as well as Christian) such as children, sheep, wild birds, wild flowers, green fields, dawn, dew, spring, and associated images, e.g. shepherds, valleys, hills. Then there are Energy symbols (creative, heroic, unrestrained as well as revolutionary, righteously destructive) such as lions. tigers, wolves, eagles, noon, summer, sun, fire, forges and swords, spears, chariots. These overlap into Sexual symbols (from uninhibited ecstasy to selfish power over the beloved and jealousy) such as dreams, branches of trees, noses, gold, silver, moonlight, and associated images, e.g. nets, cages, fairies, bows and arrows. These overlap onto Corruption symbols (hypocrisy, secrecy, as well as town-influences, including abstract reasoning) such as looms, curtains, cities, houses, snakes, evening, silence, disease. These overlap onto Oppression symbols (personal, parental, religious, political) such as priests, mills, forests, mountains, seas, caves, clouds, thunder, frost, night, stars, winter, stone, iron.

      F.W. Bateson continues: Blake used his symbols which are to be found even in some of the juvenalia in Poetical Sketches to express increasingly subtle and complex intellectual distinctions. As the system developed, however he found it necessary or convenient to reinforce the symbolism with an elaborate and cacophonous mythology that does not explain itself as the symbols usually do. At the same time the symbols become increasingly esoteric and he introduces a technical vocabulary of his own. The north, for example, stands for reason, the south for desire, the east for wrath, and the west for pity."

Previous Post Next Post

Google Search