The poem ‘a cradle song’ may best be characterised as a rhapsody of sleep and innocence. In his encounter with these states, the narrator receives a strong reminder of the divine; which as we see throughout the ‘songs’, can be seen for Blake only in human form.
Although the subject matter of this poem may seem very simple, the form is in one sense quite complex: although rhythm and rhyme are easy to make out, there is a curiously ‘entwined’ way in which crucial words-‘sweet’, ‘sleep’, ‘beguiles’- weave their way through the poem. This creates an effect that we might call ‘hypnotic’; the connection between hypnotism and somnambulism suggests to us that Blake may be trying to create a poem which in some sense not only describes but also replicates the condition of sleep – and thus of dream.The poem shifts gradually from present tense to the past. Blake also clearly suggests that sleep puts a kind of spell on us, rather as Shakespeare also suggests, for example, ‘a midsummer night’s dream’; does this poem encourage us to believe that this state of bliss can last forever, or is it intrinsic to the state of innocence that there will be future change, as with sleep we cannot forget the inevitable awakening?The lexis used is very soft and Blake uses many different rhyme schemes and literary techniques to create the sort of religious lullaby effect, and he uses this apparatus of the lullaby to create a harmonious feel, like the relationship between man and god.
There are rhyming couplets in each quatrain, and in each one the phonology is soft with assonance – ‘sweet dreams’ – enjambment – ‘sweet dreams form a shade, O’er my lovely infants head,’ – and adjective strings – ‘happy silent moony’.The poem permeates the picture of genuine religious goodness like the love between a mother and a child. The mother is the narrator of the poem, and in stanza 5 the theme switches from any child to Jesus as a child. In the same stanza, sleep is portrays as innocent, like the Garden of Eden, which was the creation of innocence.
In stanza 4, the word dovelike is written. The dove is the symbol of peace, like the Holy Spirit, and the whole world of experience is implied here, as the baby needs protection.The last word of stanza 5 is weep. These are tears of the mothers, and they are tears of happiness and of fear of experience, but the mother does not wish to break the serene state of sleep.
The words ‘sleep sleep’ are also written in stanza 5, and in doing this Blake is using sibilance.There are both implicit and explicit references to Jesus in the poem. In stanza 2 it says – ‘sweet sleep Angel mild, Hover o’er my happy child.’ This is an implicit reference to Jesus, as this baby who is reminiscent of Jesus has a guardian angel.
An explicit reference to Jesus comes in the last two lines of stanza 6 – ‘Sweet babe once like thee, Thy maker lay and wept for me’. The last line is also a paradox of Christianity.The mother from stanza 5 onwards represents Mary, as it is no longer an anonymous baby, but the baby Jesus. Stanza 7 I feel represents a nativity scene, with vague and cryptic nebulas.
The word ‘beguiles’ which comes up on a few occasions is an archaism, which represents some sort of white magic.The last stanza has a beatific way of expressing divine love. When Blake was an infant he praised the innocence of children, and innocence is to do with the purity of gods love, in a place where heaven and earth ore contrary’s, and the synthesis of opposites is the meaning of life.The poem infant joy states that we are all born in innocence; but it also says that whether we retain that innocence depends on how we are treated, for when the infant says that ‘joy’ is its name, the narrator responds in kind by saying ‘Sweet joy befall thee’.
We could imagine, especially from ‘The chimney sweeper’, a very different response which would blight this little child’s hopes of joy in life.This tiny poem seems to speak of an absolute matching between inner and outer life; the infant in need of succour and reassurance receives it directly from the narrator, and we notice here the reciprocity between the child’s smiling and the narrators singing, reminding us once again of how crucial the notion of ‘song’ is in the poems. Thus we may see the narrator as talking not only about the development of the child but also about the necessary place of song, or poetry, in that development and thus, by extension, in the whole of human life.It would be a bit perverse to attempt to see a dark side to this poem; but perhaps we might pause to place it alongside ‘infant sorrow’ in Songs of Experience, and to reflect on Blake’s perception of the enormous differences in the condition of children that he observed, and thus on the complexity of forces which either allow people to continue to have a sense of childlike innocence throughout their lives or kill that sense off in the very young.
Blake’s sense of the unification of nature is not restricted to the animal kingdom, but also embraces the flowers and all other parts of creation. Here blossom symbolises growth and potential while the two birds symbolise nature.These two stanzas repeat eachother in terms of structure, which makes us all the more able to focus clearly on the difference between the two. In the first, the sparrow is ‘merry’; in the second, the robin may be ‘pretty’, but it is nonetheless ‘sobbing sobbing’.
We may take this to mean that nature has room within it for all manner of feelings and emotions, all of which need to be valued as highly as eachother, and all of which more particularly, deserve to find a place ‘near my bosom’, in other words, in the human heart.Interestingly, where the first stanza uses the imagery of sight – ‘sees you’ – the second one replaces this by the imagery of hearing. Does this suggest to us that, as well as attending to the manifest beauty of nature, we also need to listen to its inward voice? If so, then this marks a kind of disjunction in the natural world; what might ‘at first glance’ appear perfectly happy may also reveal to us, if we attend more closely, that sorrow is natural too, and to understand this will extend the range of our natural sympathies, and thus of our creative imagination.Blossom witnesses the happiness of a sparrow and sadness of a robin and is somehow joined to Blake’s own heart (‘bosom’).