FORM & LANGUAGE
Clearly we will need some knowledge of the form and language of Blake’s poems,and this will be a main focus of our preparation during the weeks before theexamination.Remember, however, that your Study Guide has detailed comments on the form andlanguage of all the poems we are required to study. Make this a focus of your study.However, the following comments apply, more or less, to all of Blake’s poetry andshould be committed to memory though not word for word in this form:In the combined volume there are forty-six poems in all. All of them are short, somevery short indeed. All are written in an apparently simple style, and the most usualverse form is the rhymed
(stanza of four lines). Blake is unique amongmajor poets in English before the 20
century in not using the most convention line,the
(five-foot line) that was common to writers from Shakespeare andMilton through to Pope and beyond.The lines Blake uses in the Songs are shorter, typically the
(four-footline), as he found it in the popular forms of his day (hymns and nursery rhymes, andalso the
, which had a very significant influence on Blake. (The ballad is atraditional poem or song telling a tale in simple, colloquial language.)The verses that express these ideas are simple, musical and tender. Metres are borrowed from ballads, from singing games, and from Mother Goose rhymes; imagesfrom meadows, pastures and playgrounds.The decorations are delicate, painted in light colours, and filled with flowers and leafyvines, dancing children, lambs, and tiny angels.Five years after the appearance of
Songs of Innocence
, Blake completed another smallseries of plates of decorated verses, using the same simple metres, but in an entirelydifferent mood. These he engraved and bound together with the earlier poems in anenlarged volume entitled,
Songs of Innocence and Experience: Shewing the TwoContrary States of the Human Soul.
To Blake, the world of
is a world of disillusionment where the child-likesoul of
meets the harshness of nature and the cruelty of Man, and of Man’sinstitutions. Many of these songs are bitter; the decorations are often bleak, dark,filled with dead trees, wilting flowers, dead or dying figures, graves and tombstones.One of the most appropriate ways in which to organise the poems is in pairs, pairsreflecting the duality at the heart of Blake’s thinking, Blake’s conception of Innocence and Experience, always keeping in mind that one needs the other as Nightneeds Day, and that one will cast light, even as the other casts shadows.