Perfectly Poetic
T.S. Eliot once said of Blake's writings, "The Songs of
Innocence and the Songs of Experience, and the poems from
the Rossetti manuscripts, are the poems of a man with a
profound interest in human emotions, and a profound
knowledge of them." (Grant, Pg 507) These two famous books
of poetry written by William Blake, not only show men's
emotions and feelings, but explain within themselves, the
child's innocence, and man's experience. A little over two
centuries ago, William Blake introduced to the English
literary world his two most famous books of poetry: the
Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience. In his own
day, he was widely believed to be "quite mad," though those
who knew him best thought otherwise. Today, few of us take
Blake's madness seriously, either because we don't believe
in it or because it no longer matters. Blake's fundamental
concepts speak mainly about the human condition and emotion;
and within the realms of this paper, I would like to
persuade my readers that William Blake uses simple language
and metaphors to show the two contrary states of the human
soul - innocence and experience.
The world of innocence is a child's world, and it is
preserved in the minds of full-grown children by projecting
the memory or desire for parental protection on to a higher
realm. The lambs with their "innocent calls", the orphans
and children with their "innocent faces", are simple and
pure in that they have done no harm; but they are also
innocent in that nothing challenges their faith. They are
naive and vulnerable to the conspiracy of the experienced
world, and yet superior to it in their blessed simplicity.
The world of experience is a different world then the one of
innocence. Northrop Frye once said of the experience world;
"The world of experience is the world that adults live in
while they are awake. It is a very big world, and a lot of
it seems to be dead, but still it makes its own kind of
sense... the changes that occur in the world of experience
are, on the whole. orderly and predictable changes." (Grant,
Pg 510) However, the adults were also once children, and in
childhood, happiness differs from those of the full-grown.
As a child, happiness is based not on law and reason, but on
love, protection, and peace. As an adult, however, one must
follow the rules of law and order. Frye also said this of
the experienced world; "As adults, the law and order is the
basis both of reason and society, without it there is no
happiness." (Grant, Pg 510)
"The Songs of Innocence does not seem to be songs only
about innocence, but by innocence." (Ferber, Pg 2) This can
be seen clearly within the "Introduction" section to the
Songs of Innocence. The songs are 'of' innocence in the way
the Piper's songs are 'songs of pleasant glee' and 'happy
chear'. They are of the world of innocence too, because
their internal audience consists of innocents. For
instance, when the child makes demands, the Piper casually
and innocently responds - four demands followed by four
Pipe a song about a Lamb;
So I piped with merry chear.
The child, then, innocently, requested to hear the song
again, but this time he 'wept to hear.' With the example
above, one may suspect that the Songs of Innocence is
'really' aimed at sophisticated adults, but the reader may
be 'really' a child anyway; therefore, it is safe to say
that, as simple as it may seem, one should take seriously
the Piper's story that the Book of Innocence owes its
existence to the demands of a child, even if he is an
imaginary one. It is also say to say then, that in order to
fully understand and appreciate all the songs that follow,
one must comprehend the meanings hidden within the
The "Introduction" points the readers towards the
pastoral world and the pastoral idea to follow in the next
couple of songs. The reader can tell this by looking at
Blake's usage of props and themes of the classical pastoral
tradition; such as the pipe and the hollow reed, the sweet
lot of the shepherd and the pleasant sounds of nature.
Blake uses a fairly clever conceit in the last stanza to
have the Piper manufacture a 'rural pen' out of a hollow
reed, rather then to pluck one from a bird, for it is a
routine pastoral fact that pipes are made of hollow reeds;
the pen, then, is thus a transformed pipe.
And I made a rural pen,
And I stain'd the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs,