William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience
Trace how Flake’s thought develops from his poem ‘The Lamb’ and ‘The Tiger’ together- “l have no name: I am but two days old. ” What shall I call thee? “l happy am, Joy is my name. ” Sweet Joy befall thee! ” ‘ The good character as well as the bad abstractions such as virtues and vices is framed up in symbols to elaborate their suggestiveness and implications. Flake’s cosmology is too large and complex to be given in brief. His symbols help to express his visions which may be obscure to a common reader.
Blake says: “Allegory is addressed to the intellectual powers, while it is altogether hidden from the corporeal. Understanding is my definition of the Most Sublime Poetry. ” From this it is clear that in his view poetry is concerned with something else than the phenomenal world and that the only meaner of expressing it is through what he calls ‘allegory. For Blake allegory is a system of symbols which presents events in a spiritual world. The modest Rose puts forth a thorn, The humble Sheep a threatening horn; White the Lily white shall in love delight, Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright. ” Blake imagined himself under spiritual influences. He saw various forms and heard he voices of angels, fairies, kings of the past and even God; the past and future were before him and he heard in imagination, even the awful voice which called on Adam amongst the trees of the garden. In this kind of dreaming abstraction, he lived much of his life; all his s works are stamped with it.
Though this visionary aspect explains much of the mysticism and obscurity of his work, it is also the element that makes his poems singular in loveliness and beauty. It is amazing that he could thus, month after month and year after year, lay down his engraver after it had earned him his lily wages, and retire from s the battle, to his imagination where he could experience scenes of more than-earthly splendor and creatures pure as unfasten dew. Like Sweeteners, Blake narrates things unheard and unseen; more purely a mystic than Sweeteners, he does not condescend to dialectics and scholastic divinity.
Those who fancy that a dozen stony syllogisms seal up the perennial fountain of our deepest questions, will affirm that Flake’s belief was an illusion, constant and self-consistent and harmonious with the world throughout the whole of a man’s life, cannot differ from much reality. However, it is also important to note hat he was unlike common atheists. “Selfish Father of Men! Cruel, Jealous, selfish Fear! Can delight, Chained in night, The virgins of youth and morning bear? In the clash of creeds, it is always a comfort to remember that sects with their sectaries, orthodox or otherwise, could not intersect all, if they were not in the same plane. [My spiritual intelligence is certainly becoming confused by your words of conflicting conclusions, therefore ascending one of them; please reveal definitely that by which I may obtain the greatest benefit. ] We find in Flake’s poetry many of the elements characterizing Romantic poetry. The world of imagination is the world of Eternity’, says Blake.
In his championship of liberty, his mysticism, naturalism, idealization of childhood, and simplicity Blake could be called a precursor of Romantic poetry in nineteenth century England. “Now enjoy…. Dip him in the river who loves water….. The busy bee has no time for sorrow….. The most sublime act is to set another before you… The cistern contains: the fountain overflow…. ” In explaining these lines we waver in interpreting the drops of tears that water the heaven as the outcome of the rage of the defeated rebelling angels or as tears of Eric.
If this wrath is one of the two aspects of God, the tiger’s cruelty and wildness is only superficially fearful. It can otherwise be construed as a prophetic rage. But after, all wrath and mercy unite at the same point where the ultimate reality of God is felt. There are two meaner for the achievement of the goal, the first being through the ‘innocence’ of the lamb and other being through the ‘experience’ of the tiger. The close of the poem gives us the clue: the daring of the creator whether God or man is the cleansing wrath of the tiger. Blake is first and foremost a poet of visions and mysticism.
But of, his visions are not confined to a narrow streamline of thought about futurity alone; they take the present into consideration and unfold those aspects of contemporary society detrimental to free growth of the mental powers of man. He ridicules the artificial ethos of religion that professes a complete negation of man’s sensual life and vehemently argues for a more complete life which combines the senses and the spirit. He probes beneath the surface of things and exposes the roots of social vices, the hidden sores and scars of a tradition-bound society. “Can a mother sit and hear An infant groan, and infant fear? No, no! Ever can it be! Never, never can it be! ” Flake’s maxim that the human soul is made of contrary elements can be applied here also. Indistinct and imagination or the beastly and divine nature of man is necessary for a fuller life of the soul and for its progress. It is a grievous mistake to sanctify the lamb and turn an eye of defiance towards the tiger. Blake opposes such a view and gives equal prominence to sense and soul, the wild and meek aspects of human beings. “Does spring hide its Joy When buds and blossoms grow? ” What holds our attention is not merely the brute’s beauty but the mystery and repose behind its creation.
In ‘The Lamb’ the poet visualizes the holiness of the lamb and child and unifies them with Jesus Christ. It is obvious that the link that connects these figures is ‘innocence’. The harmlessness of the lamb and the purity of the heart of a child are nothing but the manifestation of heart nor does he act premeditatedly. The air of innocence is clearly visible on the face of all the three of them. “How sweet is the Shepherd’s sweet lot! From the morn to the evening he strays; He shall follow his sheep all the day, And his tongue shall be filled with praise. ”
More than this element of innocence there is another thread of connection between the lamb and Christ. Christ refers to himself as the Lamb of God: “The lamb of God that take away the sin of the world. ” In the Bible Christ is referred to both as a lamb and as a shepherd. In this aspect the lamb has a religious significance too. (“The whole universe is a symbol, and God is the essence behind. ” ? Swami Vegetarian ?) ‘The Tiger’ displays the poet’s excellence in craftsmanship and descriptive skill. In the forest of experience Blake finds the bright- eyed tiger which appears to involve all the cosmic forces.
The tiger has made its appearances in the ‘Prophetic books’ of Blake. The poet’s reliance in the cosmic and preternatural forces is increasingly exemplified and asserted when he describes the creation and the creator of the tiger. The creator is a supernatural being and not necessarily the Christian God. The creation, according to another elucidation takes place in an extraordinary cosmic commotion. When the constellations turn round in their course there is a move from light to darkness. The pattern and method of asking questions here are quite different from those employed in ‘The Lamb’.
In ‘The Tiger’ the questions are put in a terrified and awe-inspired tone. It is also held that ‘The Tiger’ deals with the colossal problem of evil, but in Blake evil does not exist as an abstract quality. Instead, the evil is embodied in the wrath of God. Christ, like all other Gods, has a dual duty. He punishes the sinners and offenders and loves the followers. Thus Christ or God becomes the God of both love and unkindness. The fire is a popular symbol of wrath. Milton and Spencer have described wrath as fire, but we are not to misapprehend Flake’s use of wrath as one of the ‘deadly sins’ by the miracle and morality plays.
Blake finds virtue in wrath and what he describes in the righteous indignation or the wrath of a pious soul. In addition to this, if we also construe the symbolic meaning of the forest, then we can substantiate the meaning of the lines. “Tiger Tiger burning bright In the forests of the night. ” The poet is struck with surprise and awe to behold the wild animal’s majestic elegance and grandeur. Its symmetry is fearful and the glow of its eyes is unearthly. When the process of creation is over, “a terrible beauty is born. ” The strength of the animal and its moves/ are its peculiar features.
The tiger beyond its superficial tatty is a prototype of God whose harsher aspect is present n the wildness of the creature. It is a contrast and counterpart to the innocence of the lamb. The poet wonders: “Did he who made the Lamb make thee? ” In the poem ‘The Tiger’ a description of the process of creation is given, but no clarification is given about who the creator is. In the first stanza the creator is described as having wings by which he may have reached the skies to bring the fire for the luster of the wild beast.
The creation of the tiger is conveyed in words and phrases which, though meaningful in their totality, do not yield any explicit elucidation of the creator. We sense the strong shoulders thrusting forward in the process of forging the body of the carnivore. The dexterity of the strokes is further conveyed in the ‘dread hand’ which is gifted with unprecedented craftsmanship. If the ‘dread feet’ and ‘dread hand’ are applied to those of the busily engaged creator we can elicit the fact that those limbs are busy in working diligently.
At the moment of achieving the perfection of his sublime creation the poem grows tense, the questions are broken in midway and the speaker’s hindered gasps let out incomplete harass of exclamation. “The star floor. The watery shore. Is given thee till the break of day. ” In the world of innocence even the meanest creature such as a lamb (which is low only in the eyes of human beings) is treated as having unbound divinity. Here is an exclusive unification of the three characters- Christ, child and the Lamb who constitute the Christian concept of ‘Trinity in the world of innocence. Flake’s concept of God is closely aligned to his mysticism.
He conceives of God as the very epitome of characteristics which man is capable of developing. If he nurtures these qualities, an can attain godliness-it merely depends on what set of qualities a man develops. A child asks a lamb if it knows its merciful creator, its feeder or the giver of its delightful and coos clothing of fleece. He also asks the lamb whether it knows who gave it its tender voice that fills the valleys with pleasant Joy and music. Quite childlike, the lines “Little lamb who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee? ” are repeated, presumable with wonder in the eyes of the child. The speaker does not wait for any answer.
He tells the lamb that its creator is one who is called after the name of the lamb itself. He is one who calls Himself a lamb. He is meek and mild and came on earth as a little child. The poem comes to have a meaningful pause at this juncture. The questions are asked, answers done and the child (or the poet) turns to conclude the lines in a wise hymnal vein or spiritual implication. He says: “l a child, and thou a lamb, We are called by His name:” Blake intends to suggest that the great purpose of wrath is to consume error, to annihilate those stubborn beliefs which cannot be removed by the tame “horses of instruction. It is typical of Blake to ask questions when he is overpowered by wonder ND amazement and it is effective especially in the case of this poem, where it results in an “intense improvisation”. The phrase fearful symmetry- whatever is possible in symbolic suggestions- is clearly the initial puzzle” the ‘symmetry implies an ordering hand or intelligence, the fearful’ throws doubt about the benevolence of the creator. The forest of the night’ is the darkness out of which the tiger looms brilliant by contrast: They also embody the doubt or confusion that surrounds the origins of the tiger.
In the case of the lamb the creator “is meek and he is mild”:”He became a little hill”. In the case of the tiger creator is again like what he creates. The form that must be supplied Him is now that of the Promethean Smith working violently at the forge. The tiger is an image of the Creator: its dreaded terror must be His. “In what distant deeps or skies Burnt the fire of thin eyes? On what wings dare he aspire? What the hand dare seize the fire? ” There is scarcely any poem in Songs of Innocence and of Experience which does not have a symbolic or allegorical or allusive implication.
Though these poems are rendered in the simplest possible poems is somewhat scriptural- simple and rebound at the same time. The Biblical allusions add prodigious significance to his poems when foe example, we read the ‘The Shepherd’ it commemorates Christ as the Good Shepherd and reminds us that the parables are clad in pastoral elements. Without reference to the Bible the poem, ‘The Shepherd’ is meaningless and insignificant. Furthermore, Blake makes use of Biblical phrases too, as we see in the poem ‘The Lamb’. Gave thee life, and bid thee feed, By the stream and o’er the mead; Gave thee clothing of delight, Softest clothing, woolly, bright: Gave thee such a tender voice, Making all the vales rejoice? ” In Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Flake’s symbols are not as obscure or abstruse as we find them in his other poems. In his later poems (Prophetic Books) they are rather incomprehensible. The principal symbols used by Blake have been classified by critics as innocence symbols. Many of these, of course, overlap, and among themselves weave richness into Flake’s poetry. Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down, And the dews of night arise… ” In the first, the word ‘dews’ evokes an image of harmlessness but in the second context it evokes a feeling of chill and damp. In the first there is a feeling that the eight will pass, but in the second poem the word “dew’ assumes further ramifications of meaning. It implies materialism, the philosophy of experience, the indifference to spiritual truth. Knowledge of these symbolic meanings enriches our understanding of the poem. Blake gives his own interpretation to traditional symbols.
The rose traditionally associated with love and modesty assumes the aura of ‘sicknesses and disease in Blake for he considered love to be free and honest and open in order to be good. The lily’s purity assumes added depth in Flake’s poetry, not because it is chaste but because it feels honestly. The sun flower’s movement with the sun has deep meaning: on the one hand it represents a search for spirituality: on the other, it expresses regret for being attached to the ground. The simple vocabulary and movement of Flake’s verse should not lull us into a feeling that the thought too is childish.
Indeed there is a complex thread of syllogism in his poetry that gives multiple layers of meaning to his words. Sometimes this syllogism even lends obscurity to his poems because it evolves out of Flake’s own system of symbols. The manner in a particular mood is a remarkable illustrated in the ‘Nurse’s Songs’ in Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience occur in both poems: yet the feelings evoked because of the accompanying words are in sharp contrast. “To this day they dwell In a lonely dell. Nor fear the wolfish howl Nor the lion’s growl. The world of ‘Experience’ welcomes a child of sorrow, who rather than being a fiend himself is also born into a monstrous world of totems and taboos. Strange to notice, it is not actually upon the growing boy that the shadows of prison house close; on the other hand, the shadows spread on the infant at the moment of birth itself. Predictably enough, there is no scope of a ‘heaven’ lying about its infancy. Its struggle begins from the very moment of its birth, it is choked from the very start of its life and it finds its only rest on its mother’s breast.
As a contrast to ‘Infant Joy here the child is not a ‘Joy but a fiend’ and neither its mother nor the father, though it is not explicit from Flake’s poem, accords a warm s welcome to him. The child hides behind the cloud. The speaker is evidently the child himself who laments against life. “But to go to school in a summer morn, Oh! It drives all Joy away Under a cruel eye outworn The little ones spend the day In sighing and dismay. ” Admittedly, the poem brings out Flake’s ideas on love and hints at his well-known belief that sex is not sinful.
For Blake nakedness is a symbol of pure innocence and he lauds uninhabited love. The Golden Age is that in which the people have love for their fellowmen and mingle with one another freely. In the Golden Age love is not a crime but a grace and beauty signaling unbridled innocence, but in the present age the most tender sentiments are frozen by the trembling fear’ coming from the cruel eyes of experience. “In every cry of every Man In every Infant’s cry of fear In every voice, in every ban The mind-forged manacles I hear. Flake’s vision of man in Songs of Experience, especially with reference to ‘A Divine Image’ can be summed up as, The human dress is forge iron The human form is a fiery forge, The human face a furnace sealed, The human heart its hungry gorge. ” The poem ‘A Divine Image’ is a contrast to ‘The Divine Image’ in its very title. In ‘The Divine Image’, the definite article ‘The’ shows the real, one and only Divine Image. In ‘A Divine Image’ the indefinite article ‘A’ points at a particular divine image which has a unique growth.
The contrast is also visible in the two stanzas of these two poems. “For Mercy has a human heart, Pity a human face, And Love the human form divine. Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace… ” Can be seen as a stark contrast to the lines of ‘A Divine Image’ that run as: “Cruelty has a human heart And Jealousy a human face; Terror the human form divine And Secrecy the human dress. ” This is truly terrifying. His soul (the human form) is burning with frightfulness within the iron body of secrecy (the condition of deceit; his face is a furnace sealed up wherein Jealousy rages; his heart is recklessly cruel.
The imagery is similar to that of ‘The Tiger’, but where the Tiger had broken all bounds as a symbol of regeneration, man is here imprisoned in a ‘dress’ of an iron suit, of his own forging; and all his energies burn within it, consuming him. “For I dance, And strength and breadth, And the want Of thought is death;” Blake is not merely a revolutionary thinker on man’s physical or corporeal freedom; he is also one who broods over the spiritual freedom or spiritual salvation of mankind.
The former point, showing Blake as a humanitarian, cans be well understood from poems such as ‘The Chimney-sweeper’, ‘Holy Thursday and ‘A little Girl Lost’. In all these cases Flake’s fury makes him lash out at the hypocrisy of man and the society that enslaves children to utter lifelessness. In ‘Holy Thursday Flake’s sympathetic and compassionate heart shares the agony of the children and his pent up feelings are let out through an ironical comment: “Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor, Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door. William Blake is considered a precursor of Romantic Movement in English Literature. Romanticism laid considerable stress on the elements of imagination, tauter worship, humanitarianism, liberty, mysticism and symbolism. It differed from the outlook expounded by the preceding age of Neo classicism which promoted the notion of reason, balance and logic with regard to prose and poetry. The Romantic creed of poetry rests on recording the simple emotions of humanity in a simple diction. Recollections of childhood (nostalgia) are also a common subject of Romanticism. When the voice of children are heard on the green And whisperings are in the dale, The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind, My face turns green and pale. ” But of, the flood of feelings gains more fury in the poem of the same title in Songs of Experience: “Is this a holy thing to see In a rich and fruitful land. Babes reduced to misery, Fed with cold and usurious hand? ” With vehemence Blake argues for the freedom of human energy too. He deplores any religion that denies sexual and emotional life of man. Virility and vigor are divine and its free play should never be hindered. He is called by thy name, For he calls Himself a Lamb. He is meek, and He is mild; He became a little child. ” Many of Flake’s poems celebrate the divinity and innocence of not merely the child UT also the least harmless of creatures on earth, namely the lamb. The child asks the lamb if it knows who has created out. The child does not wait but answers his questions himself. He does so, we feel, not because the lamb cannot communicate, but because the child is so enthusiastic and eager to mention the creator and his virtues.
He refers to the meekness of Christ, his glorious infancy as well as his reference to himself as a lamb. He concludes with a reference to his own and the lamb’s affinity to God and thus establishes their oneness. Qualities of simplicity, innocence and divinity are extended even to the world of animals and the innocent creatures like the lamb are raised from their level of lowness in the human eye. Both the child and Christ are unified with the lamb and the three forms the Trinity on earth. “Tiger! Tiger! Burning bright In the forest of the night, What immortal hand or eye Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? In ‘The Shepherd’ the Shepherd is depicted as enjoying vast freedom, and his fortune is praised. He is so fortunate that he can wander about in carefree way wherever he chooses and sing in praise of God. Not only is he always near his lambs, listening to heir innocent cries, bleats and answering bleats ,but he is never exposed to the world of ‘Experience’ where he may be startled by roars of cruelty and fierceness. This is a simple pastoral poem in which liberty and freedom are praised. We are again brought to realize the affinity of lamb and innocence. Frowning, frowning night, O’er this desert bright Let the moon arise, While I close my eyes. ” The pastoral convention, which represents the occupations of shepherds in an idealized way, against an idealized 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 nor 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 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 nothing 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 phrase ‘reed’, ‘rural pen’ and Water clear’ contributes much to the elements of pastorals or rustic innocence. In the so-called world of experience, callousness, tyranny and insincerity await the blithe new-comer and subject him to an entire transformation. The child -turned-youth experiences a curb on his spontaneous instincts, by the repelling codes of social moralities and etiquette. There is hypocrisy in full swing and there is cruelty. In this unsanitary forge, he is reshaped and bestowed with an altered outlook. He is no more the rollicking child.
His fertile imagination yields to the aged atrophied intellect and mature reason. He is in fact fallen’ or ‘lapsed’- fallen from his primordial abode of life. “What the hammer? What the chain? The two diverse natures- Innocence and Experience are essential for the ultimate salvation of his soul. From experience man moves to a world of higher innocence. Blake seems to argue that Joy and peace, which man had experienced in his holding, can have solid foundations only if man has experienced and overcome the impediments and unpleasant realities which day to-day life presents.
That is to say, to attain a higher innocence man must be tested by suffering and misery, physical as well as emotional; he must go through the actual experience of life. Through the state of childhood innocence is charming; it is not prefect and cannot last long. For spiritual elevation, lessons from both experience and innocence are essential. “And it bears the fruit of Deceit, Ruddy and sweet to eat: And the raven his nest has made In its thickest shade. ” Flake’s The Tiger blends child-like innocence with adult wisdom.
The child-like innocence is revealed in the volley of questions and exclamations about the fearful symmetry of the tiger’s body and the reactions of the stars and God to the tiger’s creation. Like the innocent child the poet wonders to know who framed the tiger’s body, fearful but well-proportioned: “What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry? ” The following volley of questions bears the stamp of child-like innocence: “Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing boy. ”
Like a child not contaminated by the evils of experience the poet is curious to know what instruments were used to frame the tiger’s “fearful symmetry’. With the innocence of the child the poet thinks that the angels were so amazed to see the fearful tiger created that they threw down their spears and wept. He also wonders if God smiled with satisfaction to see his new creation (I. E. The tiger) – the wondering that becomes a child. Uniform spring and your day are wasted in play, And your winter and night in disguise. ” With this child-like innocence is blended adult wisdom. The Tiger expresses the sadism (I. . Experience) that comes of age that becomes a man who has gone through his life. The wisdom sought to be conveyed is as follows. Man passes from innocence to experience. And for experience man has to pay a bitter price not merely in such unimportant things as comfort and peace of mind, but in the highest spiritual values. Experience debases and perverts noble desire. It destroys the state of childlike innocence and puts destructive forces in its place. It breaks the free life of imagination and substitutes a dark, cold, imprisoning fear, and the result is a deadly low to blithe human spirit.
The fear and denial of life which come with experience breed hypocrisy which is as grave a sin as cruelty. To destroy these forces of experiences the benign creator assumes the role of a malignant creator. In the scheme of things the tiger is as much a necessity as the lamb. So the God who created the lamb also created tiger. In other words, is not only a God of mercy, but also a God of wrath, the creator of Satan and social and political cataclysms. Flake’s conception of God here betrays a striking similarity with the Hondo hydrological Avatar theory. Round the laps of their mothers Many sisters and brothers, Like birds in their nest, Are ready for rest; And sport no more seen On the darkening Green. ” It is indispensable that the boy who enjoyed full freedom and liberty in innocence ought to pass into experience. This is because the design of human life gives prominence to the contrariety of human nature without which there is no ‘progression’. A complete life on earth meaner the life of innocence and experience. Without experience or innocence the life cycle is incomplete and imperfect.
The memos of Songs of Innocence and of Experience are based on this viewpoint of contrariety. “Why of the sheep do you not learn peace Because I don’t want you to shear my fleece. ” ‘The Tiger’ is typically representative of the most characteristic features of ‘experience’ which in the poetic context of Blake involves deep meaning. From this powerful symbol we construe that Blake was a devotee of energy which, for him, was an aspect of true divinity. In this poem the poet’s irrepressible curiosity at the extraordinarily exquisite creation of God finds its vent in small broken questions.
After wondering at the symmetry of its body and stripes, the luster of its eyes, the strong muscles, elegant paws and its powerful strides, the poet turns to the reaction of the creator when he beholds his own creation. The poet says that God may have smiled at the surrender of the rebelling angels at his own master craftsmanship in the creation of the tiger. The ‘stars’ are the rebellious angels under Satan. When they failed to defeat God and were beaten they threw down their spears as in surrender and moaned for their defeat. It is after this event that God started creating inhabitants for the earth.
So, at the time of the defeat of the rebelling angels, God might have Just finished the creation of the awesome tiger and smiled on his hidden purpose behind all his acts. “Because I was happy upon the heath, And smiled among the winter’s snow, They clothed me in the clothed of death, And taught me to sing the notes of woe. ” ‘The Lamb’ is the most significant poem in the section of Innocence not merely because it propounds the idea of innocence in the simplest way, but also because here we notice the poet extending the world of innocence even to the animals that re insignificant and base in the human eye.
In this poem we see a child patting a lamb and asking if it knows who the giver of its life and brad is. He asks it whether it knows who has given it the silken fleece immaculate white and thin voice of its bleat. The child himself answers his questions. He defines the Almighty God as who is known after the name of his lamb who is meek and gentle. Since God descended to the earth as infant Jesus he is also called a child. The child, lamb and God are all brought to unite to form a single divine entity. The essence of the poem lies in these