Songs of Innocence and of Experience was not popular when it was first printed. Well technically it wasn’t mass produced due to difficulty with reproducing the images. But from the limited attention Blake’s other works received, it seems that not many people in Blake’s time viewed him as the great English poet he is today. So here is the question, why was Blake not considered great then but is now? The obvious answer would be to say that Blake was “ahead of his time”, his ideas were so advanced that the future generation found it more relevant than the generation he was with. But what if this is not true? What I am about to say is purely conjecture, and not to be taken seriously, however, I just want to point out the possibility that maybe we all misunderstood Blake.
It is impossible to know what the author of any work of art really meant by producing it. Unless we ask them of course, but even then we don’t really know the exact thoughts and feelings the author felt when he/she made a work of art. This creates a problem, because there is no way to correctly interpret the meaning of a work of art, therefore the standard of measuring the artistic value of works of art become purely subjective. What is great art to one could be a vulgar piece to another. And a piece of art one generation find boring could be extremely compelling to another. Here we can see the problem with Blake, what if the reason he is valued in the present generation is because we gave his poems unintended interpretations based on our society? And because his poems seems to express the feelings of the people in the present generation, we assume that it was intended by him?
One of the greatest abilities humans have is drawing connections between unrelated things. Words have connotations, colours have meanings, and pretty much everything could be a symbol for something else. The ability of humans to draw connection between pretty much everything is fantastic. I read a joke about an English teacher once, the English teacher is analyzing a novel, and he/she starts to talk about the meaning behind a certain blue curtain in a book. Apparently, blue symbolizes the deep depression the character feels. But upon asking the author, the author simply said that “well, the curtain is blue…” Humans love to add meanings to meaningless things, so what if Blake doesn’t really have any particular meanings when he wrote Songs of Innocence and of Experience? What if we are just interpreting his poetry from a modern perspective and forcing upon it modern meanings?
Blake is a member of the Romantic Movement. Romanticism seems to favour emotion over reason. Romantic writers like Rousseau have said that they have sudden violent bursts of emotions that give them ideas and help them write things. Could it be that Blake was in a similar situation? He felt a violent emotion overcoming him and had to let it out by writing poems. Perhaps he didn’t even knew or thought about what he was writing, he simply wrote his poems and felt that they were good enough to be published.
It seems that great works often have a lot of ambiguity in their comprehension. Perhaps that is the reason they are great, not because their literary value or theme, it’s the ambiguity in their comprehension that makes them great. They can be interpreted by countless generations each with an interpretation that fits their time. And the interpretation doesn’t seem to be complete for all the generation that tries to interpret it. People love to obsess themselves with things they don’t understand. So the more ambiguous something is, the harder they are to understand, the more artistic value they seem to have. This is especially true with paintings, I feel some of the paintings that are considered great are just the artist doing random things. Like seriously, what is a piece of paper being splashed with paint supposed to mean anything?
Overall, I just want to say that maybe, maybe, we all misunderstood Blake, maybe he didn’t really have the meanings we interpreted in his poems, perhaps we just think too much as humans. Of course I won’t say that I just have no idea what he or Hopkins is talking about…