The duality of Blake’s ‘Innocence’

One interesting aspect of the Songs of Innocence and Experience that Professor Mota spoke about in lecture was that the anthology cannot be clearly divided into dark and light; good and bad as the innocence vs. experience angle might lead us to do. I therefore set about finding examples of where a dark or sombre note infringes upon the seemingly light and carefree tone of the poems in the Songs of Innocence. One recurring theme is the eventuality of the innocence that Black portrays in his poems. In The Echoing Green for example, the poem’s end carries with it the unavoidable conclusion of childhood: “And sport no more seen / On the darkening green”. A possible reading of some of the poems in this part of the anthology is that Blake is commenting on the dark side of innocence, and the danger of naivety. The Chimney Sweeper acts as an example. Ostensibly, the poem tells the story of a young chimney sweeper who is visited by an angel and reassured in his dreams. Yet Blake could possibly be commenting on the cruel position and exploitation that some children are forced into, suffering until they have no one to turn to but God. Also noticeable was the recurring motif of crying or ‘weeping’ in the poems of Innocence. In A Song, a “mother weeps” over her sleeping child; in The Blossom, we hear the “sobbing, sobbing” of a “pretty robin”. This presence of tear stands juxtaposingly to the joy that Blake expresses through the poems, and indicate that he may have been trying to warn his audiences of the fleeting and superficial nature of innocence and ignorance.

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