Revisiting William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience – Times of India


Innocence and experience are two words that we come across quite often in our lives. A happy and cheerful child is often associated with the word ‘innocence’. When the same child grows up, starts to understand the world and looks at it as an adult, we say that he/she has gained ‘experience’ and worldly knowledge. However, the same two words often create a conflict amongst us and lead to various questions: Is a child always innocent? Is it necessary to lose innocence in the process of attaining experience? Does experience mean no trace of innocence at all?

The mentioned questions have been conveyed and attempted to be answered by William Blake in his ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’, published in 1789. A seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age, Blake is considered one of the greatest artists Britain has ever produced. The Romantic Age, of which Blake was an integral figure, was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution. According to the Romantics, the rapid industrialization was turning everything mechanical and taking over emotions and aesthetic experience. This lead to a society that was corrupt, money-minded, and selfish.

In his ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’, Blake juxtaposes the innocent, pastoral world of childhood against an adult world of corruption and repression. In a way, childhood could be equated with life before industrialization and the adult world with its aftermaths. Many of the poems fall into pairs so that the same situation or problem is seen through the lens of innocence first and then experience. Also, they stand against despotic authority, restrictive morality, sexual repression, and institutionalized religion.


‘Songs of Innocence’ is not only a collection of verses for children. Several of the poems include an ironic tone, and some, such as ‘The Chimney Sweeper,’ is a criticism of the society Blake lived in. Although they are clearly intended as a celebration of children and of their unadulterated enjoyment of the world around them, the poems in ‘Songs of Innocence’ are also a warning to adult readers. They give the message that innocence has been lost not simply through ageing, but because of the numerous forces of the society. Some of the most popular poems in ‘Songs of Innocence’ include ‘The Shepherd’, ‘The Lamb’, ‘The Little Black Boy’ and ‘The Chimney Sweeper’.

The ‘Songs of Experience’ work via parallels and contrasts to lament the ways in which the harsh experiences of adult life destroy what is good in innocence, while also expressing the weaknesses of the innocent perspective. The poems allow Blake to be more direct in his criticism of society. He attacks church leaders, wealthy socialites, and cruel parents with equal intensity. Furthermore, in ‘Songs of Experience’, Blake questions how we know that God exists, whether a God who allows poor children to suffer and be exploited is in fact, good, and whether love can exist as an abstract concept apart from human interaction. ‘The Tyger’, ‘A Little Boy Lost’, and ‘London’ are some of the most read poems of ‘Songs of Experience’.

The journey that Blake takes us on is typical of what all of us go through as we mature, and the fantastical dreams of our childhood fail to come to fruition in the ways we previously imagined. The journey takes us from innocence to experience, and, along the way, questions its own earlier conclusions. For the modern world, which is full of corruption, greed, selfishness, and corrupt institutions, it acts as a prophecy to save ourselves and our future generations.

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