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The progression from innocence to experience in william blakes poetry

Far from being an isolated mystic, Blake lived and worked in the teeming metropolis of London at a time of great social and political change that profoundly influenced his writing. After the peace established in 1762, the British Empire seemed secure, but the storm wave begun with the American Revolution in 1775 and the French Revolution in 1789 changed forever the way men looked at their relationship to the state and to the established church.

Poet, painter, and engraver, Blake worked to bring about a change both in the social order and in the minds of men. One may wonder how a child born in moderate surroundings would become such an original artist and powerful writer.

Unlike many well-known writers of his day, Blake was born into a family of moderate means. His father, James, was a hosier, one who sells stockings, gloves, and haberdashery, and the family lived at 28 Broad Street in London in an unpretentious but "respectable" neighborhood. Blake was born on 28 November 1757. In all, seven children were born to James and Catherine Harmitage Blake, but only five survived infancy.

Blake seems to have been closest to his youngest brother, Robert, who died while yet young. By all accounts Blake had a pleasant and peaceful childhood, made even more pleasant by his skipping any formal schooling. As a young boy he wandered the streets of London and could easily escape to the surrounding countryside. Even at an early age, however, his unique mental powers would prove disquieting.

According to Gilchrist, on one ramble he was startled to "see a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars. His parents did, however, encourage his artistic talents, and the young Blake was enrolled at the age of ten in Pars' drawing school. The expense of continued formal training in art, however, was a prohibitive one, and the family decided that at the age of fourteen William would be apprenticed to a master engraver.

At first his father took him to William Ryland, a highly respected engraver. William, however, resisted the arrangement telling his father, "I do not like the man's face: Instead of Ryland the family settled on a lesser-known engraver but a man of considerable talents, James Basire.

Basire seems to have been a good master, and Blake was a good student of the craft. Blake was later to be especially grateful to Basire for sending the young student to Westminster Abbey to make drawings of monuments Basire was commissioned to engrave. The vast Gothic dimensions of Westminster and the haunting presence of the tombs of kings affected Blake's romantic sensibilities and were to provide fertile ground for his active imagination.

At the age of twenty-one Blake left Basire's apprenticeship and enrolled for a time in the newly formed Royal Academy. It was as a journeyman engraver, however, that Blake earned his living.

Booksellers employed him to engrave illustrations for publications ranging from novels such as Don Quixote to serials such as Ladies' Magazine. One incident at this time affected Blake deeply. In June of 1780 riots broke out in London incited by the anti-Catholic preaching of Lord George Gordon but also by resistance to continued war against the American colonists. Houses, churches, and prisons were burned by uncontrollable mobs bent on destruction. On one evening, whether by design or by accident, Blake found himself at the front of the mob that burned Newgate prison.

These images of violent destruction and unbridled revolution gave Blake powerful material for works such as Europe 1794 and America 1793. Not all of the young man's interests were confined to art and politics. After one ill-fated romance, Blake met Catherine Boucher, an attractive and compassionate woman who took pity on Blake's tales of being spurned. After a year's courtship the couple were married on 18 August 1782. The parish registry shows that Catherine, like many women of her class, could not sign her own name.

Blake soon taught her to read and to write, and under Blake's tutoring she also became an accomplished draftsman, helping him in the execution of his designs.

By all accounts the marriage was a successful one, but no children were born to the Blakes. Catherine also managed the household affairs and was undoubtedly of great help in making ends meet on Blake's always limited income. Henry Mathew and a celebrated lady of fashion whose drawing room was often a meeting place for artists and musicians. There Blake gained favor by reciting and even singing his early poems.

Thanks to the support of Flaxman and Mrs. Mathew, a thin volume of poems was published under the title Poetical Sketches 1783. Many of these poems are imitations of classical models, much like the sketches of models of antiquity the young artist made to learn his trade. Even here, however, one sees signs of Blake's protest against war and the tyranny of kings.

David Erdman argues that the ballad "Gwin, King of Norway" is a protest against King George's treatment of the American colonies, a subject Blake treated more extensively in America 1793.

  • He has accepted his fate and given up;
  • Many of these poems are imitations of classical models, much like the sketches of models of antiquity the young artist made to learn his trade;
  • But even here in this blessed land, there are children starving;
  • Urthona represents that fourfold, unbounded vision that is the normal attribute of the redeemed man;
  • The fiery figure of Orc represents all revolutions:

Only about fifty copies of Poetical Sketches are known to have been printed. In 1784, after his father's death, Blake used part of the money he inherited to set up shop as a printseller with his friend James Parker. The Blakes moved to 27 Broad Street, next door to the family home and close to Blake's brothers.

The business did not do well, however, and the Blakes soon moved out. Of more concern to Blake was the deteriorating health of his favorite brother, Robert.

Blake tended to his brother in his illness and according to Gilchrist watched the spirit of his brother escape his body in his death: He even announced that it was Robert who informed him how to illustrate his poems in "illuminated writing. The plate was then dipped in acid so that the text and design remained in relief.

That plate could be used to print on paper, and the final copy would be then hand colored. Blake continued to experiment with the process of illuminated writing and in 1794 combined the early poems with companion poems entitled Songs of Experience. The title page of the combined set announces that the poems show "the two Contrary States of the Human Soul. The introductory poems to each series display Blake's dual image of the poet as both a "piper" and a "Bard.

The pleasant lyrical aspect of poetry is shown in the role of the "piper" while the more somber prophetic nature of poetry is displayed by the stern Bard. In the "Introduction" to Songs of Innocence, Blake presents the poet in the form of a simple shepherd: The "piping songs" are poems of pure pleasure.

The songs of pleasure are interrupted by the visionary appearance of an angel who asks for songs of more seriousness: The piper is no longer playing his songs for his own enjoyment. Now the piper is in the position of a poet playing at the request of an appreciative audience. The "song about a Lamb" suggests a poem about the "Lamb of God," Christ.

The child commands the progression from innocence to experience in william blakes poetry the poet not keep the songs for himself but share them with his audience: The "book" is Songs of Innocence, which is designed in a form that "all may read.

He no longer writes only for his own enjoyment but for the delight of his audience.

  • Thanks to the support of Flaxman and Mrs;
  • Even at an early age, however, his unique mental powers would prove disquieting;
  • Blake satirizes the biblical and Miltonic associations of sin and lust;
  • Blake's minor prophecies are, of course, much more than political commentaries;
  • Urizen, the lawgiver, can not accept the liberating aspects of sexual pleasure;
  • Neither one should be dismissed in favor of the other.

The piper is inspired by the directions of the child, and the poet is inspired by his vision of his audience. The child vanishes as the author interiorizes his vision of his audience and makes it a central part of his work.

Immediately after the child's disappearance, the author begins the actual physical composition of the poem by plucking the hollow reed for his poem.

At the end of the poem the poet is no longer the simple shepherd of Arcadia playing for his own amusement. Now he writes his poems for "Every child" of England. The "Introduction" to Songs of Experience is a companion to the earlier poem, and, as a poem written in the state of experience, it presents a different view of the nature of the poet and his relation to his audience. The strident tone of the first stanza provides a marked contrast to the gentle piping of the first poem and reminds us that we are now in the state of experience: Hear the voice of the Bard!

Who Present, Past and Future sees: Whose ears have heard The Holy Word That walk'd among the ancient trees.

This is not an invocation, but a direct command to the reader to sit up and pay attention. Instead of playing at the request of his audience, the poet now demands that his reader listen to him. The speaker now has authority because of what he has heard.

The voice of the poet is that of the ancient Bard and that also of the biblical prophet who has heard the "Holy Word," the word of God.

William Blake

Assuming the role of the prophet and the Bard gives the modern poet a sense of biblical authority to speak on matters sacred and profane. With his authority, the Bard is more willing to instruct his audience than is the piper. The Bard repeats the call of the Holy Word to fallen man. The message repeated by the Bard is that man still "might control" the world of nature and bring back the "fallen light" of vision.

Blake presents two sides of his view of the poet in these introductory poems. Neither one should be dismissed in favor of the other. The poet is both a pleasant piper playing at the request of his audience and a stern Bard lecturing an entire nation. In part this is Blake's interpretation of the ancient dictum that poetry should both delight and instruct. More important, for Blake the poet is a man who speaks both from the personal experience of his own vision and from the "inherited" tradition of ancient Bards and prophets who carried the Holy Word to the nations.

In reading any of the poems, one has to be aware of the mental "state" of the speaker of the poems. In some cases the speakers address the same issue, but from entirely different perspectives. The child of "The Chimney Sweeper" in Songs of Innocence lives in deplorable conditions and is clearly exploited by those around him: The speaker is also the progression from innocence to experience in william blakes poetry child, but one who understands the social forces that have reduced him to misery: Who make up a heaven of our misery.

The famous companion poems " The Lamb " and " The Tyger " are also written on the same subject: Yet, how man understands God depends on man's view of God's divinity. In "The Lamb" the speaker makes the traditional association between a lamb and the "Lamb of God," Christ: For he calls himself a Lamb: The speaker sees God in terms he can understand. God is gentle and kind and very much like us.