Importance of Introductory poems in Songs of Innocence and Experience

Also Read

     Introduction: Blake's introductory poems of Songs of Innocence and Experience are as significant as the expository scenes of Shakespeare's dramas. The introductory pieces in Blake communicate the purpose, nature, tenor and setting of the poems to follow.

      Introduction to Songs of Innocence: To begin with, let us take the poem 'Introduction' in Songs of Innocence. In this poem Blake represents a laughing child as his inspiration for the 'Songs'. The eighteenth century regarded the child as a miniature adult, but Blake knows this is not true, and he gives us his vision of the world as it appears to the child or as it affects the child. And this world is one of purity, joy and security.

Introduction to Songs of Innocence: To begin with, let us take the poem 'Introduction' in Songs of Innocence. In this poem Blake represents a laughing child as his inspiration for the 'Songs'. The eighteenth century regarded the child as a miniature adult, but Blake knows this is not true, and he gives us his vision of the world as it appears to the child or as it affects the child. And this world is one of purity, joy and security.
William Blake

      Pastoral Elements: The pastoral elements we find in Songs of Innocence, as a whole, are portentously conveyed in the 'Introduction.' The pastoral convention, which represents the occupations of shepherds in an Idealised way, against an idealised country background had to face severe criticism in the eighteenth century because of its unreality. It was held that men and women were neither so joyful and carefree, nor so innocent, as they were represented. But, according to Blake, young children do have these qualities, they live in a golden world of their own. This convention is used by Blake to give us an insight into childhood, and one 'state of the human soul in the poem the poet tells us about the valley along which he goes piping and about his sudden meeting with a child. The child bids him pipe a song about a lamb - another pastoral element. The 'pipe' is a conventional pastoral musical organ on which the shepherds play melodiously as the sheep graze. It is also worth noting that when the child appeals to him to write down the song, the poet says:

And I plucked a hollow reed.
And I made a rural pen
And I stained the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear.

The phrases 'reed, 'rural pen' and 'water' clear contribute much to the elements of pastoralism or rustic innocence.

      Poems for Children: Another conspicuous feature of this poem is that it is a child - an angelic infant on a cloud that fills the poet with a divine poetic inspiration. Moreover, the poet says:

And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear.

      The poet writes down the numbers so that the children may read them and be pleased. It is not difficult for us to see that it is a poem for the child, and the following songs also testify that they are about the child too. The child and the lamb as we see in the 'Introduction' and in the later poems of Innocence as well, are very much associated with each other. Since both of them represent divinity and innocence.

      A Divine Atmosphere: in Blake's poems, especially in 'Introduction,' the valley is not merely a dale with a bunch of flowers and huge trees. It has a divine touch which many of the so called poets of pastoralism lack and fail to bring in. The angelic child that rouses aesthetic fervour in the poet appears in this valley and leads him to write down his songs. Hence the grace of the valley. The divine atmosphere pervades many a poem in Songs of Innocence.

      The Ingredients: As the child bids him write down the song of the lamb, the piper plucks a hollow reed and makes a rural pen of it and dipping it in the clear water he writes down his songs for the children. The hollow reed and the rural pen unveil the setting of the poems of 'Innocence' which is a countryside landscape. He stains the clear water and makes ink to pen down the songs. Viewed from this angle, the poem is a harmonious blend of land, water, cloud, air and divinity or the angelic grace.

      'Introduction' in Songs of Experience: We have to take the 'Introduction' to Songs of Experience and 'Earth's Answer' together as constituting the whole of the 'Introduction' to Experience, for they are interdependent and interconnected. Even a casual analysis is enough to bring out the bitter contrariety of the two introductory poems of Innocence and Experience. This contrariety is evident, not only in their subject matter, but also in their setting, tone and mood.

      Mood of Sobriety: There is no divine child, no lamb, no valley and no piper here; instead, it is the trumpeting sound of the Bard that beats in our ears. The Bard, in 'Introduction' in Songs of Experience is one who sees the past, present and future, who has heard 'The Holy Word' of Christ, That walked among the ancient trees of Eden, 'calling the lapsed soul' of man (Adam) and wept in the evening dew to know that man is fallen and destined to live a life of miseries. The Bard's eternity and godliness are thus asserted and he is also portrayed as superhuman, and conscious of the fallen state and sinful life of Earth. He foresees things since he outlives time - the time that binds man to the earth and makes him mortal. Therefore the Bard, who is a link between man and God, endeavours to awaken the dull earth which is lost in a slumberous mass. But the Bard senses no response from 'Earth'.

       Earth's Answer: The earth is irresponsive and insensitive to the calls of the Bard, not because she is dumb but because she is chained. She raises her head and we see her natural beauty and virginity vilified; she looks dreadful, dreary, ugly and benumbed. Her once-rippling locks have turned repulsively grey and she has lost all her charm and loveliness. More pitiful is her state of life. She says shee is imprisoned on the watery shore and is kept under the tyranny of the selfish God 'Starry Jealousy', another name for Urizen. She is a virgin but her virginity is made fruitless and infertile by the God of 'Selfish Fear.' He keeps her in a den - a place unfit for a virgin to live in - and imposes severe bands and codes of prohibition upon her. She is a prisoner in the hands of conventional religion which promotes jealousy, cruelty, hypocrisy and tyranny. She begs the Bard to break the chain and set her free from the eternal curse and bondage. Her freedom to love and her attempts to promote the virtue of love are curbed. Her salvation (and human salvation) rests on freedom and on following the path of Jesus Christ.

      The angelic element of the 'Introduction' to Songs of Innocence is negated here in this poem. 'Introduction to Songs of Experience' has no symbol of innocent divinity. The valley of the 'Introduction' to Songs of Innocence is replaced here by den and 'watery shore' and a relatively gruesome picture. The divine grace that inspires the poet to write down his poems is no longer working in Experience. Here it is the god, 'Starry Jealousy.' that keeps the earth in a den and rules over her.

      The Difference in the Points of View: Robert F. Gleckner gives us a valuable piece of judgement about the difference in the points of view of the Bard and the piper: "Closely related to the necessity of reading each song in terms of its state is the vital importance of point of view. Often it is unobtrusive, but many times upon a correct determination of speaker and perspective depends a faithful interpretation of the poem. Blake himself suggests this by his organization of the Songs into series. 'Innocence' introduced and sung by the piper, 'Experience' by the Bard. Superficially there seems to be little to distinguish one from the other since the piper clearly exhibits imaginative vision and the Bard 'Present, Past and Future sees.' Yet for each, the past present and future are different: for the piper the past can only be the primal unity, for the present is innocence and the immediate future is experience; for the Bard the past, is innocence, the present experience, the future a higher innocence. It is natural, then that the piper's point of view is prevailingly happy; he is conscious of the child's essential divinity and assured of his present protection. But into that joyous context the elements of experience constantly insinuate themselves so that the note of sorrow is never completely absent from the piper's pipe. In experience, on the other hand, the Bard's voice is solemn and more deeply resonant, for the high-pitched joy of innocence is now only a memory. Within this gloom, though, lies the ember which can leap into flame at any moment to light the way to the higher innocence. Yet, despite this difference in direction of their vision, both singers are imaginative, are what Blake called the poetic or prophetic character. And though one singer uses 'mild and gentle numbers and the other more 'terrific tones both see the imaginative (and symbolic) significance of all the activity in the songs. The unexplicit, Blake said, rouses the faculties to act. The reader of Blake, then, must rouse his faculties to consider this imaginative point of view always, no matter who is speaking or seeing or acting in a poem.

      Both singers are of course William Blake. And since he or they sing all the songs, whether they are identifiable or not with a character in a poem contributes most importantly to the total meaning of the poem.

University Questions also can be Answered:

Q. Write a note on the aim, purpose and significance of the introductory poems in Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.
Q. How are the introductory poems in Songs of Innocence and of Experience related to the group of poems that follow each?
Q. How does the piper of Songs of Innocence differ from the Bard of Songs of Experience? To what extent is it possible to say that the two introductory poems contain in essence the elements of innocence and experience respectively?

Previous Post Next Post