Songs of Innocence, and Songs of Experience – William Blake
Songs of Innocence, and Songs of Experience – Songs of Innocence and of Experience is an illustrated collection of poems by William Blake. It appeared in two phases. A few first copies were printed and illuminated by William Blake himself in 1789; five years later he bound these poems with a set of new poems in a volume titled Songs of Innocence and of Experience Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.
“Innocence” and “Experience” are definitions of consciousness that rethink Milton’s existential-mythic states of “Paradise” and “Fall”. Blake’s categorizes our modes of perception that tend to coordinate with a chronology that would become standard in Romanticism: childhood is a state of protected innocence rather than original sin, but not immune to the fallen world and its institutions. This world sometimes impinges on childhood itself, and in any event becomes known through “experience”, a state of being marked by the loss of childhood vitality, by fear and inhibition, by social and political corruption, and by the manifold oppression of Church, State, and the ruling classes. The volume’s “Contrary States” are sometimes signalled by patently repeated or contrasted titles: in Innocence, Infant Joy, in Experience, Infant Sorrow; in Innocence, The Lamb, in Experience, The Fly and The Tyger. The stark simplicity of poems such as The Chimney Sweeper and The Little Black Boy display Blake’s acute sensibility to the realities of poverty and exploitation that accompanied the “Dark Satanic Mills” of the Industrial Revolution
Masterpieces of English lyric poetry, written and illustrated by William Blake. Songs of Innocence, published in 1789, was Blake’s first great demonstration of “illuminated printing,” his unique technique of publishing both text and hand-colored illustration together. The rhythmic subtlety and delicate beauty of both his lyrics and his designs created rare harmony on his pages. The poems transformed his era’s street ballads and rhymes for children into some of the purest lyrics in the English language. In 1794 Blake published Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. It contained a slightly rearranged version of Songs of Innocence with the addition of Songs of Experience. The poems reflect Blake’s views that experience brings the individual into conflict with rules, moralism, and repression; as a result, the songs of experience are bitter, ironic replies to those of the earlier volume. The Lamb is the key symbol of Innocence; in Experience its rival image is the Tyger, the embodiment of energy, strength, lust, and aggression. See also THE TYGER. — The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. What he called his prophetic works were said by 20th-century critic Northrop Frye to form “what is in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry in the English language”. His visual artistry led 21st-century critic Jonathan Jones to proclaim him “far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced”. In 2002, Blake was placed at number 38 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. Although he lived in London his entire life (except for three years spent in Felpham), he produced a diverse and symbolically rich œuvre, which embraced the imagination as “the body of God” or “human existence itself”.
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