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William Blake Study Guide

William Blake Study Guide

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03/04/2013

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The Songs of Innocence and of Experience
 
William Blake
CONTENTS
A Key to Understanding Blake & his Poetry02Form & Language03THE POEMSThe Ecchoing Green04London04The Lamb06The Tyger06The Blossom09The Sick Rose09The Chimney Sweeper
(Innocence)
10The Chimney Sweeper
(Experience)
11A Cradle Song12The Clod & The Pebble12The Divine Image14The Human Abstract15Nurse’s Song
(Innocence)
16Nurse’s Song
(Experience)
17Infant Joy18Infant Sorrow19William Blake His Life & Ideas21Songs of Innocence30Songs of Experience32Songs of Innocence and of Experience33A Blake Tutorial35PoemsThe Tyger (36) – The Lamb (37) – A Poison Tree (38)The Human Abstract (39) – London (40)Writing about Poetry43AS LEVEL ENGLISH LITERATUREAQA Specification B451
 
INNOCENCE & EXPERIENCE
Shewing two contrary states of the human soul
The Key to Understanding William Blake & his PoetryWilliam Blake believed that all human beings are born into a state of Innocence. ByInnocence he means that infants and children share in the divine, that they are in fact part of God, and that they see with the eyes of God. For the child, everything aroundthem is beautiful and true. This Innocence is not the same as Ignorance, i.e. being tooyoung to know that the world can be a dark, threatening place. Their Innocence ismore like the innocence of Adam and Eve before they ate of the forbidden fruit andwere expelled from the Garden of Eden.As we grow up and leave childhood behind us, Experience teaches us that the worldnot only has beauty and truth, but also has a darker side, and that people can betainted with Hate, Envy, Jealousy, Fear, Poverty, Despair. This for Blake is the stateof Experience.Blake felt that we all, as adults, must accept that the world of Experience exists, butthat we can get back to the Vision of Innocence that we had in our childhood. Howare we to do this?We regain our Innocence by the use of our Imagination. We use our CreativeImagination to remember what the World of Innocence is like, and that is the worldwe should try to live in. All our actions and behaviour and thoughts should reflect thekind of Innocence we want to regain – we should be kind and helpful and graciousand loving and considerate. And if we are artists we may recreate the Visions of Innocence in paint, or in words, or in sculpture, or in any of the artistic media we can.William Blake is not being naïve. His Songs of Experience show how familiar he waswith the harsh realties of life, but his Songs of Innocence show the kind of world weshould be struggling to build if we want to experience the joys of InnocenceRegained.This central idea Innocence, Experience, and Innocence Regained – is reflected inBlake’s poetry, and it is enlightening to study them in pairs, for example Infant Joy &Infant Sorrow. We should
not
see the poems as mirror opposites, but as the interplayof light and dark that is woven into the fabric of human life and its affairs.When studying the poems, keep this question before you at all times:
To what extent do these poems reflect William Blake’s visionof the worlds of Innocence and Experience?2
 
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
quatrain
(stanza of four lines). Blake is unique amongmajor poets in English before the 20
th
century in not using the most convention line,the
pentameter
(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
tetrameter
(four-footline), as he found it in the popular forms of his day (hymns and nursery rhymes, andalso the
ballad
, 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 
 Experience
is a world of disillusionment where the child-likesoul of 
 Innocence
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.
3

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