Contrary States of Human Soul: in Songs of Innocence and Experience

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      Introduction: "Without Contraries is no progression, Attraction and Repulsion, Reason, and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to human existence." From these contraries spring what the religions call Good and Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy. "Good is Heaven, Evil is Hell", says Blake in his The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience is a brief sketch of man's life journey from his childhood to old age. Though man is fallen and destined to live a life of mortality, he is blessed enough to have visions of his glorious days. But these moments are fleeting and man's ability to experience them lasts only for a short time. Later, when he enters the life of experience he forgets them all and adheres to the modes and fashions of the world. In his childhood man feels all the tender and soft virtues such as sympathy, love and kindness. But when he turns mature there is a change in his outlook. He experiences wrath, energy, sexual desire as a consequence of which he begins to behave as a mature man. Cruelty, reason and hypocrisy seize his mind and he is moulded into a new form. In this stage of life man is influenced by the negative aspects of the conventional religion which he follows blindly. To show the extent of man's degeneration Blake has written some poems in Songs of Experience as poignant contrasts to other poems which appear in Songs of Innocence.

Innocence to Experience: the Development of Character: Keeping in view Blake's definition of Songs of Innocence, that it is life seen through innocent eyes, we may easily detect the poet's awareness of the impact of  'experience' on man's nature. We can also sense Blake's preoccupation with experience while he describes the ignorant eyes of innocence. Blake presumably is conscious of the reality that the innocent eyes are ignorant of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience; show two contrary states of the soul and "in their opposition there is double-edged irony, cutting into both the tragedy and reality of the fallen existence."
Human Soul in Songs of Innocence and Experience

      Innocence to Experience: the Development of Character: Keeping in view Blake's definition of Songs of Innocence, that it is life seen through innocent eyes, we may easily detect the poet's awareness of the impact of  'experience' on man's nature. We can also sense Blake's preoccupation with experience while he describes the ignorant eyes of innocence. Blake presumably is conscious of the reality that the innocent eyes are ignorant of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience; show two contrary states of the soul and "in their opposition there is double-edged irony, cutting into both the tragedy and reality of the fallen existence."

      In innocence one likes to linger, appreciative of the strife-free bliss where all is tender, loving, generous and soft. But this is not the end-all of life. It is necessary to go through the harrowing events and feelings of experience if man is to attain maturity. Man is thrown out of the Garden of Eden as he defies the word of God. On earth he suffers much. He gives birth to the God of conventional Religion or 'The Tree of Mystery' and cherishes and nurtures evil desires. He is unaware of the higher innocence he may achieve if he follows the path of Christ. It is to convince him of the possibility of this attainment that the Bard calls out his message

O Earth, O Earth, return!
Arise from out the dewy grass.

      But man (earth) is quite unfortunately inconsiderate of the poet's call to rouse him. Man can hear the words of the Bard but he cannot move because,

Prisoned on the watery shore
Starry Jealousy does keep my den:
Cold and hoar.
Weeping O'er
I hear the Father of the Ancient Men.

      But the irony of this tragic state of man is that the chain that binds him is made by himself; it is the mind-forged manacles that the poet finds in every cry of man, in every infant's cry of fear, in every voice and every ban.

      Blake's 'London' is an apt picture of the world of Experience. There the poet's car catches the sound of infant's and man's cry. The infant can be either the chimney-sweeper who is forced to work in soot, or the child whose freedom is nullified by the nurse, it may be the infant of sorrow who feels the presence of chains and thralldom even in its swaddling clothes, it may be the school boy who, as he says, sits "under a cruel eye outworn" in the school. It may be either the little boy who is lost to the fanatic Church or the child of a charity school as shown in 'Holy Thursday' who has given up his freedom to his experienced elders.

      Though they take birth as the progenies of the 'fallen' men the children are not wholly fallen when they come to carth. In a state of innocence they feel they live in a heavenly atmosphere. It is this heaven which is described in Blake's The Echoing Green, Spring, Laughing Song, Blossom, and other pieces in Songs of Innocence. There we see from the child's point of view - birds warbling, bells ringing, valleys echoing and streams gurgling along. In the 'Introduction' the poet is a carefree piper - the sound of the pipe is merry and his inspiration is a laughing child. That sets the tone for the songs of innocence. There is no cloud of repression, no jealousy, no hypocrisy, no cruelty and no fear; the sky is deep blue with shining sun and gentle wind. It is the valley (of contentment) and not the forest (of experience). The lambs frisk with the enthusiastic children and there is happiness everywhere. Imageries from the parables are in plenty in this section, reference to Christ and his life is very frequently made.

      Even though infantile heaven is there, the poems are not all free of overtones of care. The marching "flowers of town" in 'Holy Thursday' are walking in a regulated form under the watchful eyes of the beadles. Their meekness and discipline is forced, compulsorily demanded and hence the hints of oppression are there in Songs of Innocence. As far as the little black boy is concerned, it is not a heaven that welcomes him on this earth; instead, it is the white man's racial discrimination and colour-consciousness. There are children who are sold to master sweeps and compelled to brush off the soot from the burning chimneys. In 'The Chimney-Sweeper' of Innocence, Blake tells us of the dream of one such miserable boy. Thus "forest is not far from the echoing greens, and the tiger is lurking just beyond the fields where the lambs frisk and bound. In Innocence itself we have heard the echo of these elements which may sooner or later dominate over the character of man. This is the ironic razor edge the poet drives into both the tragedy and the reality of the fallen existence.

      Now, the real experience of the fallen man comes under the head 'Experience.' When the child passes through his stages of development to maturity, he is gradually mounded into an entirely different form. This transition affects not merely his body, but also his mind and outlook. It is actually when the boy enters into experience that he falls into the world of his fellow beings. Growing away from innocence he falls by the 'Watery Shore' of innocence; he is attacked by the Father of Ancient Men, he weeps, he loses his former light of grace on his face, he is terrified of the new dreary land; he is chained and put in a den. His liberation from bondage is possible only if the turgid links of the chain are broken. In this world of Experience the newcomer suffers suppression and oppression of all forms.

      Constrained Worlds of Innocence and Experience: There arc emotional tensions between the two contrary states in man. Blake uses companion poems to point out the tensions. The God of Innocence was Jesus Christ but in Experience God is Jchovah. In Innocence the sport of the children rouses tender feelings in the heart of the Nurse. Here in Experience it rouses jealousy in her. 'The Lamb' is, in Experience, replaced by The Tiger: love is selfish and true love is prohibited. Even the little vagabond feels that, 

....the church is cold
But the Ale-house is healthy. and pleasant warm.

      Man cherishes envy and jealousy against his fellowmen and cheats without a speck of pity. The holy institution of marriage is debauched and vitiated into a hearse and the offspring born to the married wife is 'blasted.' And what is the divine image worshipped by the so-called men of experience? lt is a human image which has cruel heart, jealous face, terrible form and secret earnings or manipulations in direct contradistinction to the "divine image" in Innocence. The change from the divinity, simplicity. and innocence to cruelty, jealousy and secrecy is clear. There is no trinity of godhead such as child, lamb and Christ. And the irony is that the more the man of experience prays to this divine image, the more the vices bestowed upon him. The God of Experience demands, like the pagan gods, human blood and human sacrifice. One can note the subtle paradox - Christ shed his blood for human beings and sacrificed himself for their salvation, but here, in Experience the cruel God demands sacrifice from his devotees and makes them sacrifice themselves for him. Still man does not understand the fact, he does not follow the path of the 'loving God' Jesus Christ - but follows the path of violence, cruelty, deception; the path of Urizen. This is the most bitter and tragic irony of the Songs of Experience.

      The contrast and continuity between innocence and Experience is brought out through the pairs of poems with similar or even the same titles. 'The Chimney-Sweeper' in the first section ends on a note of sense of security - at least a hope of it. In the second section the poem with the same title has little hope to offer, emphasising as it does the crueliy of king. Church and parents, 'Infant Sorrow' provides an antithesis to 'Infant Joy': 'The Lamb' offers a contrast to The Tyger 'A Divine Image' is a complete contrast to 'The Divine Image.'

      Conclusion: Blake felt that innocence and experience were coexistent in the human being and the crime of religion was to minimise or ignore the essential oppositions in hunan nature, While the tiger symbolises violence and the terrifying aspects of the universe, it also represents violent forces inside man. These forces, as Blake felt long before modern psychologists have affirmed, must be faced and fully recognised, not hypocritically suppressed. Suppression would merely nurture 'The Poison Tree.' The mood of Songs of Experience, on the whole, is one of disillusionment and desolation. But amidst all the evil and misery there is a brave ray of hope, as in the call of the Bard in 'Introduction' and the prophecy of a golden age in 'A little Girl Lost' and 'The Voice of the Ancient Bard'. What Blake is saying in Songs of Innocence and of Experience is that life has to be looked at as a whole. Only if one recognises the existence of the harsher aspects can one overcome them and reach a higher innocence.

University Questions also can be Answered:

Q. Blake defined the relationship between Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience as the "two Contrary States of the human soul" Elucidate the significance of the phrase and illustrate your answer from the poems in the two groups.
Or
Q. Consider how Blake develops his theme of man's development in terms of innocence and experience in his Songs.
Or
Q. What do you understand by the "Contrary States of the human soul and how does Blake illustrate this contrariness in his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience?
Or
Q. Would you agree that Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience are complementary to each other? How are the poems of each group related and distinguished?
Or
Q. Differentiate between Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience as far as theme and subject matter is concerned.

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