Notes for Discussion of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Compiled by Ralph Dumain
27 April 2005

General considerations:

Uniqueness & significance of these works: the contrary states
Profound philosophy: both in more accessible lyrics & more impenetrable prophetic works incorporating Blake's personal mythology
Don't accept "official" interpretations (e.g. Keynes' commentaries on the individual songs) uncritically.
What is innocence?
Innocence must be organized.
Getting through troubled times (the French Revolution, government repression in Britain)
Children's literature, child-rearing, and Blake's opposition
Emergence of Songs of Innocence from satirical poems (An Island in the Moon)
The significance of the interplay of text & image in the illuminated works
Blake's invention of his own printing methods
Songs meant to be sung? (Blake's reputed singing, Allen Ginsberg, other settings)
Intrusion of experience into the world of innocence
Role of irony in Blake's Songs of Innocence? (likeliest candidates: "The Chimney Sweep," "Holy Thursday," "The Little Black Boy")
When was the Songs of Experience conceived as a counterpoint to Innocence?
Does Blake identify with Experience?
The validity & limitations of Experience: Introduction (voice of the Bard) vs. Earth's Answer

Songs of Innocence: the poems

Introduction: imitation of the childlike state in the structure of the poem. But why "he wept to hear?" Is the piper innocent? From oral to written form.

The Lamb: saccharine doggerel? What else is important besides the obvious Christian symbolism?

The Chimney Sweeper: case for an ironic reading? Is the Angel's consolation credible? "So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm."-An ambiguous assertion?

Holy Thursday: case for an ironic reading? What should we be cynical about, what not? Is the final moral credible? Do the "harmonious thunderings" transcend the exploitation of these children? Emergence of this poem.

Songs of Experience: the poems

The Chimney Sweeper: Because I dance & sing, they think they have done me no injury—meaning? Heaven of our misery?

The Tyger: most famous poem in the English language. Did he who made the Lamb make thee? Is the tyger evil? The Tyger and revolution. The stars as symbol of oppression.

A Poison Tree: desire driven underground. Deceptiveness of appearance. Sweet revenge.

A Divine Image: counterpoint to Innocence. Imagery: "Furnace seal'd," fiery forge, hungry gorge.

London: one of the most celebrated Blake poems. What means "charter'd"? Significance of the marks? Manacles? Why is the "Marriage hearse" plagued?

The Voice of the Ancient Bard: why was this poem moved from the Songs of Innocence? Doubt, "artful teazing", maze, tangled roots—significance? Leading others? How does this poem recapitulate Blake's grand scheme?


"Little Lamb, God Bless Thee!": Experiencing Blake's Lamb

William Blake’s Manuscript Lyrics: Discussion in Commemoration of Blake’s 250th Birthday (28 November 1757 - 12 August 1827), November 2007

William Blake Study Guide


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Uploaded 6 October 2007
Updated 24 October 2007

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