William Blake's "Songs Of Innocence And Experience" Essay

William Blake S Songs Of Innocence And Experience Term paper

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In this first essay, I will be dealing with poems from William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience. More precisely, I shall be dealing with the Introduction from Songs of Innocence, as well as its counterparts Introduction from Songs of Experience and Earth's Answer. For my thesis, I shall attempt to demonstrate how Blake used the symbols of the Piper and the Bard to represent the states of innocence and of experience, and how he passes from one state to the next through the use of these symbols. Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience are two series of poems which complete one another. Each poem has a counterpart in the opposite series. Many people tend to misread or misinterpret these poems. In order to be able to fully understand what Blake is saying, we must look at both corresponding poems as one. Let us examine the images of the Piper and the Bard. The OED defines Bard as an "Ancient Celtic order of minstrel-poets, whose primary function appears to have been to compose and sing verses celebrating the achievements of chiefs and warriors." In his poems, Blake's definition is fundamentally the same, except that he utilizes the term to mean someone "Who Present, Past, & Future sees". The Bard is able to see through time and space. He is what Blake defines as a Visionary. The Piper, on the other hand, is not of this nature. He is a simple man who dwells in innocence. He listens to the child he encounters without thinking. In his mind, everyone is good, everyone is honest. But while the Bard is living in a world of experience, he sees without judging, he knows without thinking. The Bard is at the highest level attainable by humankind. He has returned to the perfect unity that was before the creation of our fallen world. Therefore, he lives in innocence. But a Bard he cannot be without experience, because he is destined to tell the stories of those from the past to the masses of the future. He cannot be whole without combining both innocence and experience within himself. No living being can exist solely in innocence or experience. We necessarily must be a combination of both. In Introduction from Songs of Innocence, the Piper "loses" his innocence, in a manner of speaking. The child makes the Piper write his songs so "that all may read". In doing so, he creates writing for the first time. Therefore, he gains experience, in that he can educate others of his songs, teach them to others, all the while, not having to remember them all. It is not so much that he has lost his innocence, as that he has gained experience. Blake passes from the Piper in Songs of Innocence to the Bard in Songs of Experience much in the same manner he did with the Lamb and the Tyger. In the Songs of Innocence, the Lamb is a powerful symbol of innocence. It is youth ;it is white ;it is innocent and gentle. In contrast, the Tyger is a symbol of experience. It is cunning, deceitful and cruel. The images from the Songs of Innocence are inversely paralleled in the Songs of Experience. Therefore, what is innocent becomes experienced, and vice-versa. In his poems, Blake does not describe innocence or experience. He does not even employ these terms, yet proceeds to paint a portrait of these states. He recreates a state of innocence or of experience by using a number of different techniques. For example, in Introduction from Songs of Innocence, the rhythm of the poem is very childlike and simple. It is a bouncy rhythm which is very easily followed, but not structured in any way. This pattern is simple, like a child, and free from experience. The use of the child as a symbol of innocence is another method Blake utilizes to recreate this state of innocence. Another technique Blake used is placing opposites within the poem. For example, he writes: "While he wept with joy to hear." and " And I stain'd the water clear,". In an adult's rational mind, these contraries cannot exist. We do not normally cry when we are happy, but rather when we are sad. And by staining the water clear, Blake is creating a paradox. Something cannot be stained clear. In a child's mind, opposites do not exist. These statements all make perfect sense to him. A child does not have a rational mind ;a child has a literal mind. Repetition is yet another method used by Blake to recreate the state of innocence. Repetition is an important tool used by children to learn. They repeat what they are told, and adults repeat what the child says to assure clarity. In this poem, we find the words piper, pipe, piping and song repeated numerous times. We therefore associate the repetition with the symbol of the young child, thus reinforcing the image of innocence. It aides in creating the state of innocence in this series of poems. We also find parallel structuring which is repeated throughout the poem. In the Songs of Experience, Blake has divided the dialectic which took place in the Introduction from Songs of Innocence, between the child and the piper, into two parts. The first being Introduction and the second Earth's Answer. The first part is the voice of the Bard speaking to the Earth. Although, there appears to be an ambiguity in this. In the first stanza, we are presented to the Bard who has heard "the Holy Word". The second stanza begins with a conjugated verb, but it's subject is left ambiguous. We do not know for certain whether it is the voice of the Bard or the Holy Word which is "Calling the lapsed Soul". In an essay written by Robert F. Gleckner (1960), he states that he interprets the ambiguity as evidence of two separate voices within the poem. One is the voice of the Bard, the second the Holy Word of God. They both are saying the same thing in the final two stanzas. They are both pleading with the Earth to return to its splendor. The reply to this calling is found in Earth's Answer. In this poem, Earth is answering to the voice (or voices) calling it, but it is feeling restrained by jealousy, by the chains of uncreativity. The rhythm in the Songs of Experience is much more defined. It is more solemn and rigid. Blake remains very faithful to the format. The rhyme scheme does not change in the Introduction, and the meter length remains relatively the same in each stanza, which creates order. This structure allows the reader to be able to anticipate what shall come next. Now the symbols have been modified. The Piper of the Introduction to Songs of Innocence has matured into the Bard of Introduction to Songs of Experience. When the child made him write out his verses, he became, in essence the Bard. The child, then, was transferred to the symbol of the Earth (Gleckner, 1959, p. 238). This passage from Gleckner's work sums up the situation best: In terms of the Introduction and Earth's Answer, the Songs of Experience can now be viewed in their proper perspective. The Bard who sees the present as it is, knows of the past and how it works in the present, will sing of experience and look with sure vision at the state beyond (Jerusalem and Milton). The listener is Earth, and we too listen, not to joy, as in Songs of Innocence, but to find our way. (p. 238) While the Bard sees events past, present and future, he does not necessarily see them as "a single mental form" (Bloom, 1963, p. 130). What he means is that the Bard has heard the Holy Word, but does not hear it now. The Bard also perceives man as a "lapsed Soul", while Blake does not. Blake believed that all men had the innate capacity to return to their spiritual consciousness, but the Bard sees no hope. He rather implores for Earth herself to return to her higher form, her form before having fallen. The Bard therefore still possesses some innocence in him. Therefore, in conclusion, the Piper and the Bard are two major symbols of innocence and of experience in their respective series of poems. But while they demonstrate their states through their actions, we also find that they possess qualities from their opposite states. The Piper who learns to write his songs gains in experience, and the Bard still possesses a somewhat naive perspective on the fallen world. One cannot exist without a mixture of both worlds. It is important to remember that if we only look at one poem from either series, it is not yet complete in as of itself. It is also important to note that unless we examine the poems with the knowledge of which series they are found in, we may not necessarily be able to identify which state it exemplifies. Bibliography REFERENCES Bloom, Harold. (1963). Blake's Apocalypse - A Study in Poetic Argument. Ithaca, Cornell University Press. 443 p. Gleckner, Robert F. (1959). The Piper and the Bard - a study of William Blake. Detroit, Wayne State University Press. 318 p. Gleckner, Robert F. (1960). Point of View and Context in Blake's Songs. In M.H. Abrams (Ed.). English Romantic Poets - Modern Essays in Criticism. New York, Oxford University Press. (pp. 68-75)

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