Blake's Philosophy: in Songs of Innocence and Experience

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      Blake's Philosophy: Blake had none of the feverish raptures and hypochondriac remorse which, even in the best of those who are commonly called saints, excite a certain contemptuous pity in the midst of love and admiration. As to the 'Christian Evidences', as they are termed, of which the mass of good people are so enamoured in trying to argue themselves and others into a sort of belief in a sort of the deity, he would have no more dreamer of appealing to them than he would have tried elaborately to argue himself into a belief in the existence of the sun. Blake was emphatically a seer, and had the disdain of all seers for the pretensions of gropers and guessers who are blind. Blake is more purely a mystic than Swedenborg, and he does not condescend to dialectics and scholastic divinity. Those who fancy that a dozen story syllogisms seal up the perennial fountain of our deepest questions will affirm that Blake's belief was an illusion. Blake's fundamental philosophy as we find it in the Songs is singularly simple and sane. Joy he conceives as the core of life. We do not learn or receive or derive this joy from something else; it is our very being and essence.

Blake understood, more than anyone else, the part played by sorrow in the expansion of the soul. Every birth into a higher life may be through the portals of pain and distress. Blake's visions were not illusions - because an illusion constant and self-consistent and harmonious with the world throughout the whole of a man's life does not differ from reality. Metaphysically we are unable to vindicate any presence or existence; we believe that those things really exist which we find constant and consistent in their relation to us - a very sound belief practically, very unsound philosophically speaking. Blake and Swedenborg and other true mystics (Jesus among them) undoubtedly had senses other than ours. As, however, Blake was a mystic and furthermore he was as unlike common Christian as he was unlike common atheists, he lived in a sphere far removed from both. His object was not to expand a small fact into a universal truth but to concentrate the Tulest sense of a universal truth into a small fact. The sharply cut symbol leaves a distinct and enduring impression where the abstract dogma would have perhaps made no impression at all.
Songs of Innocence and Experience

      Blake understood, more than anyone else, the part played by sorrow in the expansion of the soul. Every birth into a higher life may be through the portals of pain and distress. Blake's visions were not illusions - because an illusion constant and self-consistent and harmonious with the world throughout the whole of a man's life does not differ from reality. Metaphysically we are unable to vindicate any presence or existence; we believe that those things really exist which we find constant and consistent in their relation to us - a very sound belief practically, very unsound philosophically speaking. Blake and Swedenborg and other true mystics (Jesus among them) undoubtedly had senses other than ours. As, however, Blake was a mystic and furthermore he was as unlike common Christian as he was unlike common atheists, he lived in a sphere far removed from both. His object was not to expand a small fact into a universal truth but to concentrate the Tulest sense of a universal truth into a small fact. The sharply cut symbol leaves a distinct and enduring impression where the abstract dogma would have perhaps made no impression at all.

      The Childlike Qualities of Blake's Verses: The poems in Songs of Innocence and Experience are not merely about children, they are for children, such that "every child may joy to hear." To this end the vocabulary is extraordinarily simple: not many words outside the range of a five or six-year-old are used. To express rapture the poet uses words such as 'merry', 'happy', 'joy', 'glee' as well as 'delight'. The imagery is deliberately conventional so as to be easily understood; much of it is Biblical such as shepherds and their flocks, God with His Golden tents, angels, green pastures. The verse forms are the familiar one of the jingle and nursery rhyme, with the frequent repetitions which young children have a natural feeling for. Many of the 'Songs' are the expression of a single simple idea, with talking animals familiar for the nursery children. In 'Laughing Song' we see non-human objects behaving as people, a thing which young children often imagine by themselves. No other poet has succeeded in achieving such a childlike quality in his verse, without falling into namby-pamby. Of course England had other eminent writers who contributed nursery poems for children. There were the Edgeworths, the Wattses, the Taylors, the Lambs, the Trimmers, for instance; and they had their ideals, high, practical, low or servere. But they never dreamt of knocking at the gate of heaven or playing among the tangled stars. At best they could only laugh a little and break a few weak chains of solemnity. They had never come to the level of simplicity which Blake had conformed to. Blake's verses are, in this way, full of lisping questions as we hear from children and plenty of instances can be quoted where Blake portrays things which are favoured by young children.

      Musical and Pictorial Qualities of Blake's Verses: Blake's Songs f Innocence and Experience is a work of high merit both in poetry and painting. He employed all his time in sketching designs, engraving plates, writing songs, and composing music. As he drew the figures he meditated upon the song which was accompany it. and the music to which the verse was to be sung. Every scene has its poetical accompaniment curiously interwoven with the group of figures or the landscape. These designs, as well as the poems, are highly poetical and musical, more allied to heaven than to earth in melody and cadence. How vocal is the poem 'Spring', despite imperfect rhymes. From addressing the child, the poet, by a transition not infrequent with him passes out of himself into the child's person, showing a chameleon sympathy with childlike feelings. Can we not see the little three-year-old prattler stroking the white lamb, her feelings made articulate for her? Even more remarkable is the poem entitled 'The Lamb', sweet hymn of tender infantile sentiment oppropriate to that perennial image of meekness, to which the forceful eloquence of 'The Tyger' in the Songs of Experience is an antitype. In 'The Lamb' the poet again changes his person into that of a child. Of lyrical beauty, take as a sample 'The Laughing Song' with its happy ring of merry innocent voices. This and 'The Nurse's Song' are more in the style of his early poems, but, as we said, of maturer execution. There is scarcely any need to call attention to the delicate simplicity of the little pastoral, entitled The Shepherd, to the picturesqueness in a warmer hue, the delightful domesticity, the expressive melody of 'The Echoing Green' or to the lovely sympathy and piety which irradiate the touching 'Cradle Song'. More enchanting still is the stir of fancy and sympathy which animates 'The Dream' that Did weave a shade / O'er my angel guarded bed;" of an emmet that

Lost its way
Where on grass methought I lay.

      Heights of Imagination: In the Songs of Innocence and Experience we get only some clues of the ultimate goal which shall restore men to sublime happiness. The real beauty of the content is probably in the poet's flight of imagination about the universal crisis in himself and in all men. When he completed the book in its two parts he discerned that the state of innocence was not enough; yet he was not sure of the perfect design of his work. There were, besides all other things, grave concerns of man's salvation and soul in the mind of the poet. From this uncertainty and restlessness he wrote his miraculous poetry. It was his gospel of imagination that fought against all the recoiling factors that disturbed his mind and helped him to embark on his career of visionary poet. Strange as some of his ideas may be to us, his poetry comes with an unequalled force because of the prodigious release of creative energy which has gone into its making. He knew that only poetry can convey and communicate his central feelings and experiences sincerely. In the passion and tenderness of these songs there is something beyond analysis, that living power of the imagination which was the beginning and the end of Blake's activity. Owing to the fact that Blake could penetrate into a world invisible to the human eye and full of angels and spiritual presences, he was able to give to his poetry the clarity and brightness of vision.

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