Life and Death – Innocence and Experience

The songs of Innocence and Experience are a collection of poems that were written by William Blake in the 1780s. Innocence and Experience contrast each other within these works to represent childhood and adulthood, or even darker, life and death. Both of these sides work to highlight the need for light and dark – they are balanced. Even poems of the same title and premise cast light on beauty and misery.

In Songs of Innocence, Holy Thursday focuses on school children singing and praying in church, reminding the speaker of the angels of God. However in the Songs of Experience, from a different point of view, those children are impoverished and suffering, never seeing the sun shine bright. They are stuck in the harsh winter of reality.

Blake seems wise enough to see the two sides of every story. He may not fully identify with either position, just presenting the difference between the naive and realistic.

The Songs of Innocence generally are hopeful and could be read through the eyes of children. Similar to how children and blissfully unaware of the troubles of the world that adults suffer through. In The Lamb, a child wonders the origins of a lamb, curious at it comforting manner and “tender voice” – it brings joy.

Inversely, the Songs of Experience are the adults of the world relaying the unfortunate circumstances that most people are forced to suffer. Poverty, starvation, corruption – perhaps, realism. Where Innocence had the wonders of a lamb, Experience observes a fearsome tiger. How could someone create something so ferocious? It must be the product of dark sorcery, because how could the same Being who created the lamb, create this? The speaker questions this exact thing, “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”

The Sick Rose is the shortest of the bunch who’s message is of death and withering. A rose’s life is sucked away by an invisible threat and it is left to suffer.

Overall, I love the contrasting views that Blake brings. It is a point of note that many people live through the lens of Innocence, never growing up to realize that life is much harsher than they thought. It’s quite frightening that people don’t step back to accept that life has a dark side. Living naively and ignorantly equates to a false sense of security in the real world.

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