nnocence represents the ideal state and experience represents the reality’. Discuss this statement in the light of the poems you have studied so far. Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience juxtapose the innocent, pastoral world of childhood against an adult world of disappointment and corruption.
Yet, the two contrasting states are never fully separated in his poems – suggesting it is not possible to be either innocent or experienced. The introduction to Songs of Innocence has a rural background and much pastoral imagery such as ‘valleys wild’.
The piper, on the request of a child sitting on a cloud translates his music onto paper, in the form of poetry. Utensil he uses for writing is borrowed from nature (a reed), which reflects the close, ‘innocent’ relationship between music, poetry and nature.
However, the poem is not entirely innocent, there is some reference to experience – the adult is experienced in knowing how to write. Yet this does not seem to prevent him from being innocent.
The Shepherd has two stanzas. The first stanza reveals the idyllic state of innocence.
Once again, it contains much pastoral imagery, and biblical symbolism, with the lamb and the shepherd, suggesting the human race is being looked after. However, the second stanza has a sense of foreboding. ‘He is watchful while they are in peace’ suggests that their peace is a temporary state – there is a threat of things changing. This indicates, that whilst innocence may seem like the ideal state, one cannot be innocent forever.
Things will change, experience will come and with it will come the consequences of experience.Even a poem of innocence cannot hide away from this truth. Infant Joy tells the story of a newborn – the best human representation of innocence. This child is free as he/she has not been named and therefore has not got a parent holding any kind of control over him/her.
However, use of the negative sounding word ‘befall’ suggests that the world of experience, and thus the reality of constraint is inevitable, this is emphasised through the repetition of the word. The Ecchoing Green is written from the perspective a child and is an idyllic description of the state of innocence.The children have a reciprocal relationship with members of the rural community and the natural world, and ‘The Ecchoing Green’ is one of the few Songs of Innocence that can be read as pure idyll. Contrary to the expectations of experience, the older members of the community are able to recall their own childhood without being envious.
They seem content that the green is an “ecchoing” place, which has heard their laughter before and will hear other laughter in the future.It could be seen as though ‘Old John’ is attempting to recreate his lost innocence through watching the innocence of the children and by remembering himself in a time of innocence. Although more subtle than the other poems, there is a slight sense of foreboding – that the world of experience is close – in the ending of the poem, ‘the darkening green’. All of Blake’s Songs of Innocence contain this foreboding, the opposition between the states of innocence and experience is almost fully realised in these poems alone.
The introduction to Songs of Experience shows the bad state of mankind and the potential power of the ‘Holy Word’. The religious connotations are huge in this poem, it is implied that the bard is God ‘who Present, Past & Future sees’ – he carries history, comments on the present and projects on the future. The ‘ancient trees’ could be those in Eden (Genesis) and therefore the ‘lapsed soul’ refers to Eve giving in to temptation. Clearly, this poem does not imitate the simplicity of the Songs of Innocence – it demands an experienced reader.
This poem is very important to showing how contrasting experience is with innocence with its implication of the Garden of Eden. Prior to Eve’s sin, she was not aware of the bad things in this world, and then God gave her experience and she was never as happy again. Suggesting that when anyone goes through the transition from innocence to experience although they can never go back to being innocent, it would be preferable. Innocence then, may be naivete.
Infant Sorrow is juxtaposed with Infact Joy.It would appear as though this newborn already has experience, (‘dangerous world’) although is not able to talk as the baby in Infant Joy can. This poem suggests that the nakedness of the newborn is a state of vulnerability, which for someone who is experienced this is true, but a baby should not be aware that he/she is naked. This baby appears to have two parents, whereas in Infant Joy the parents are noticeably absent.
This suggests that the baby has suffered from the feelings of constraint – in Infant Joy, the baby is a ‘free-spirit’. Earth’s Answer, is Earth’s reply to the Bard.The first sentence ‘Earth rais’d up her head’ provides a brief hope that she will respond to the Holy Word’s call, however the rest of the poem dashing those hopes. Earth appears to be the victim of starry jealousy but refuses the burden of achieving her own freedom -‘break this heavy chain’ – she either cannot or will not free herself.
Earth is lost at the hands of God, but she, as the lost soul, cannot rely on an angel or God to be found, but, because she now through experience has self-identification and self-realisation, she must rely on herself to be found and be free of her bondage.This poem identifies some emotions and human traits that are found with experience – ‘Cruel, jealous, selfish fear! ‘ – suggesting once again that experience is not the ideal state. Although on the face, it seems as though innocence is the ideal state in many of his poems, Blake seems to be suggesting that with his own knowledge of the world, this is not the case. Although being innocent, and thereby not having full knowledge of the atrocities of the world means one can live in peace, this is not a permanent state.
Every poem in Songs of Innocence suggests that the character or characters in the poem will at some stage in their lives have to gain experience, thereby losing the idyllic nature of experience. Although not apparent in the poems I have studied so far, it seems as though there is another stage after experience, a stage ‘Old John’ in ‘The Ecchoing Green’ seems to be in. One cannot escape the transition from innocence to experience, but one can choose to be experienced yet remain pure at heart. This stage is a combination of being innocent in one’s actions, but being experienced and wise.
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