William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience


Songs of Innocence and Experience


  • Intro

    William Blake (1757-1827) was an artist, poet, mystic, visionary and radical thinker. Working at a time of great social and political change, his work explores the tensions between the human passions and the repressive nature of social and political conventions. In this, perhaps his most famous collection of poems he investigates, as he put it in the subtitle, 'the two contrary states of the human soul'. 


    Songs of Innocence and of Experience is as much a work of art as a collection of poems. Produced laboriously from etched copper-plates, it combines text and hand-coloured illustrations, and draws on the nursery rhymes, chapbooks and popular ballads that Blake would have encountered during his London childhood. His intention was to dramatise the concepts of innocence and experience, giving them an unorthodox twist that sprang from his reading of philosophers such as Emmanuel Swedenborg and Jacob Boehmen.


    At first glance, his poems seem childlike and insubstantial, with simple rhythms and rhyming patterns and images of children, animals and flowers. However, they are often argumentative or satirical, and reflect his deeply held political beliefs. Blake deals with radical subjects such as poverty, child labour, political and social revolution, industrialisation and the abuses of the Church. Many of the poems in Songs of Experience respond to counterparts in Songs of Innocence, exploring their themes from darker, more complex angles.


    The oddness of Blake’s vision led many of his contemporaries to denounce him as mad: his biographer Peter Ackroyd has commented that, 'He might have been some star-child, or changeling, who withdrew into himself and into his own myth because he could not deal directly or painlessly even with the human beings closest to him'.

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