Characteristics of Songs of Innocence and Experience

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      Introduction : For all purposes we may look at Songs of Innocence and of Experience as embodying significant aspects of its characteristics. They are state of childhood, state of innocence, symbolism, state of experience, repression, suppression and divisive elements and indictment of Church. Though Blake's songs deal with various other aspects too, they are more or less related to the main heads listed here.

State of Childhood : The Songs of Innocence celebrates the natural and convivial rapture of the children. Its tone and mood embody excessive joviality which is communicated in the sports, shouts and play of children. In their infancy, children are aloof from all that belongs to the so-called stage of Experience. Instead of the ugliness of life with its duly imbibed vices of hypocrisy and cruelty, we find the sky of children's life cloudless, deep blue and sunny. Happiness and joy are omnipresent in Songs of Innocence and caught in this alchemy even the old folk forget their care and worry and mingle with the children. But we cannot readily declare that Songs of Innocence is indisputably homogeneous. The 'Innocence' is blurred here and there, manifest at a higher level mainly in three poems 'The Chimney-Sweeper,' 'Holy Thursday' and 'The Little Black Boy.' Yet. as whole, the poems can be said to have more or less a uniform note of mirth and gaiety.
William Blake

      State of Childhood : The Songs of Innocence celebrates the natural and convivial rapture of the children. Its tone and mood embody excessive joviality which is communicated in the sports, shouts and play of children. In their infancy, children are aloof from all that belongs to the so-called stage of Experience. Instead of the ugliness of life with its duly imbibed vices of hypocrisy and cruelty, we find the sky of children's life cloudless, deep blue and sunny. Happiness and joy are omnipresent in Songs of Innocence and caught in this alchemy even the old folk forget their care and worry and mingle with the children. But we cannot readily declare that Songs of Innocence is indisputably homogeneous. The 'Innocence' is blurred here and there, manifest at a higher level mainly in three poems 'The Chimney-Sweeper,' 'Holy Thursday' and 'The Little Black Boy.' Yet. as whole, the poems can be said to have more or less a uniform note of mirth and gaiety.

      In Blake's poems the child is a figure symbolising God or Christ. His innocence disseminates from the simplicity of his heart and feelings which are not tampered or hampered by the elements of worldliness, customs and rules. Owing, precisely, to this nature, the child is akin to God and he feels the presence of God in all the objects of God's creation. But in the state of experience, it is quite the otherway. Reinforced and solidified on the anvil of experience the grown up man develops a sober point of view and his range of reactions and feelings are refurbished on the vicious base of experience.

      State of Innocence : In the blessed state of innocence the children behold everything apparelled in celestial light. Their instincts and imagination soar high into the infinite vistas of unknown worlds and they are scarcely bound to earth except in their visible bodily form. None of the harsher side of life besmirches their divine nature, nor can the envenomed elements of experience leave any mark in their hearts. Their outward simplicity, as seen in their manner of talking and acting, reflects the blemishless texture of their immaculate heart. They are happy in playing, singing and dancing and they speak even to the inarticulate creatures such as the lamb and bird and flower. They are sensitive to the changes of nature: the advent of spring, the bells that ring on a May-day morning and the warbling bird and the dimpling stream, the bleating lamb and the tilting blossom are all there in the world of innocence and the children seem to be an inseparable element among them. Devoid of them, the state of innocence is both structurally and imaginatively incomplete. They are not passive spectators in Blake for they sing in the Laughing Song:

When the meadows laugh with lively green
And the grasshopper laughs in the merry scene
When Marry and Susan and Emily
With their sweet round mouths sing Ha, Ha, Ha!

      Symbolism : Blake's symbols are often confusing and baffling though this is not really the case in Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Here almost all the symbols are clear. In Songs of Innocence, Lamb and child represent God, and are often used interchangeably. The poems of Innocence as a whole symbolise three stages of man - namely, infancy, childhood and youth. Thus, the two poems 'The Little Black Boy' and 'Laughing Song' symbolise the three stages of man as do the other pairs of poems 'Nurse's Song', and The Holy Thursday. But in the latter, the three phases of man are described in relation to society. In almost all the poems of Innocence the symbols convey a special level of man's existence. Here the human beings enjoy security and safety under the protection of guardian angel-figures such as the shepherd in the poem 'The Shepherd' or the old folk in The Echoing Green.

      State of Experience : The state of experience is far removed from the state of innocence. The state of innocence is in a sense, a stream of clear crystalline water, whereas that of experience is a muddy and troubled stream. Ensnared in this wild forest man is attacked from all sides by the undesirable and unpleasing legions of trouble-shooting elements. Here, there is a sense of disillusion engendered by moral conventions and ignoble codes of religious curbs and laws. Brought into this world, the happy and innocent child becomes the hard worked housewife; the idealistic youth becomes a man of the world absorbing the world's divided aims, sickness and fever. The eternal virtues such as mercy, pity peace and love have no impact on the hearts of men. On the contrary, cruelty has a human heart, jealousy has a human face and in this second stage, man appears as fierce as the brute of 'The Second Coming'. Here we have division and separation in place of harmony and unity. The senses are inhibited within the moral frame: man is separated from man as deed is separated from motive. The innocence of the child was the peace of the earth because when the child slept all creation slept and smiled. In Experience, child does not manifest God, nor is there any visible image of godliness on his face. But, as the child himself says.

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

      Having tasted the fruits of experience the boy, who is now a grown-up man, finds the new word plagued with repression. thunder and worldly strife. Even parental love is repressive and priest-like. There is a futile yearning for joy on the part of the children in Experience. They grow old and senile until they too cry: 

Oh! the dismal care!
That shakes the blossoms of my hoary hair!

      What is more pathetic, the search or quest for innocence ends in frustration and hatred of bondage and thraldom.

      Suppression and Oppression : In Songs of Experience, callousness, oppression, insincerity and exploitation are the order of the day. In poem after poem, Blake raises his voice against the barbarity of the society and its inhuman treat ment of the weaker sections. Some of the victims of this unjustifiable social set up are the chimney-sweepers and charity school children.

      The society in Songs of Experience is built on the ground-work of conventional religion, and this conventional religion is an outcome of man's own cruelty and knavery. The god Urizen - made by man himself - lets loose the reign of terror, keeps earth under oppression and makes men kill and deceive each other.

      Indictment of the Church : Some of the poems of 'Experience express a bitter indictment of the Church. Church is not a place of peace and hospitality. It exploits the children and make a heaven of their misery. According to the litle vagabond an ale house accords a warmer welcome to its customers than the Church offers to its members. The Church joins the State and King in making profit out of the misery of the poor. In Blake's 'Experience', it works not for the salvation of the human soul but for impoverishing it and casting it into utter penury.

       Conclusion : Songs of Innocence and of Experience offers contrasted views of life - in the innocence of childhood and in the maturity of experience. In order to make the contrast poignant, many poems with identical (or very similar) titles are given in each section; the facets of innocence and experience are thus illustrated.

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