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Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1789)

by William Blake

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First of all, I would like to state in my defense that I picked up this slim volume days before I started freaking out about getting to 50 books by any means necessary. Ever since I catalogued my poetry shelf, I've been making an effort to get more of it read. Plus, in the story currently in my head, I'm a teacher, leading a unit on poetry. And apparently now I'm doing research for the stories I tell myself on long walks and as I fall asleep.

Yes? Well, okay. I don't know exactly what I was expecting when I first picked this up, but it certainly wasn't the poems I found in Songs of Innocence. This first volume is so excessively sweet, devoid of any hint of adult cynicism, that I felt a bit unmoored, and it actually took me days to work my way through them. It wasn't until I made it into Songs of Experience and heard the call and response between volumes that everything fell into place. Each side is illuminated and brought into relief by the other.

This volume contains what must surely be one of the most famous poems in the English language -- "The Tyger," which somehow I think I had never previously read in its entirety, though certainly I have seen its opening lines quoted often enough. Myself, I prefer "the Little Vagabond."

Worth its reputation after all, I'd have to say. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
I like Blake´s poetry but not his content. The structure, the rhythm and rhyme, the length of the poems I enjoyed; the subject matter, especially in the Songs of Innocence was too much 'little lamb of God' for my tastes.

That said, this book is very short and does contain some treasures - most notably The Tiger - so I would recommend it to anyone who, like myself, is trying to acquire some knowledge of poetry. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 26, 2013 |
Recensione su: http://wp.me/p3X6aw-gI
Review at: http://wp.me/p3X6aw-gI ( )
  Saretta.L | Mar 31, 2013 |
Blake wrote some good poems, but I didn't particularly like most of them. ( )
  kathleen586 | Mar 30, 2013 |
Brief review

Of all the books I own, this is one that I cherish most. If I could choose only one book by one poet to teach, this would probably be it. Indeed, there would be other poems that I would teach from memory if necessary, but as a unified book this one is incomparable, each poem a satisfying experience, but the work as a whole even incredibly more rewarding: pairs of poems, groups of poems, poems and designs, two complementary books in one, and ultimately one long work of a good many parts. As an artifact, this book is a work of art – or rather this book within a book (or two books within a third book), and each of them commendable for its design and execution. As literature, Songs of Innocence and of Experience is unusual, almost unique. It is complex enough to challenge the scholar, the critic, the mystic, the cultural historian; but at the same time it is open to the common reader, some of its poems appealing even to children and unsophisticated readers of poetry. As a message, or vision as Blake would prefer we say, it lifts us up and it brings us down to earth, it calms us and disturbs us, it comforts us and unsettles us, it is reassuring and provocative – often all at the same time.

I am speaking, of course, of this edition of the work (The Orion Press in association with The Trianon Press, 1967), a replica of the original Songs of Innocence and Of Experience : Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul 1789 – 1794 The Author & Printer W. Blake. According to the publisher’s note, this is a “reproduction in the original size of William Blake’s Illuminated Book”; it has an introduction and commentary by Sir Geoffrey Keynes, at one time a noted British Blakean scholar. I purchased my copy when it first came out, for $16.50, an unbelievably reasonable price for a book with plates “printed in 6 and 8-colour offset on paper especially manufactured to match that used by Blake.” Of course, the facsimile published in 1955 by The Trianon Press in Paris had been itself a work of technological perfection, unmatched by any ordinary printer. It is usually available only in special rare-book collections of major research libraries. I have actually held it in my hands and examined every page closely. It is awe-inspiring. The original, on which all these reproductions are based, was forst published in 1794 using Blake’s own printing technique, a kind of reverse lithography, hand colored, sometimes (it is said) by Mrs. Blake. The twenty-seven copies we know of now were printed with finisgbg touches by hand for over thirty years, right up until Blake's last illnes and death. But that itself is an interesting story, one not told by Sir Geoffrey in this edition. (Cf. Blake's Poetry and Designs, ed. Mary Lynn Johnson [Grant] and John E. Grant, Norton, 2008, and the biography Blake by Peter Ackroyd,, Knopf, 1996.)

The format of this edition of the Songs has a letterpress copy of each poem on a verso page facing the plate from Blake’s work on the recto page, then a blank page, then a brief (usually one-paragraph) comment by Sir Geoffrey. The book is bound in blue cloth and enclosed in a box with similar binding, and with plates of the title pages from Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience pasted on the front and back covers of the box. Later versions of this work are available in several different formats, but, if you can, find one of the originals, for they are magnificent. Be sure the publisher is The Orion Press in association with The Trianon Press, Paris, and that the book is in its original blue binding and box. Occasionally a copy comes available from a used-book dealer for around $50 plus shipping.

Extended Review/Comments

To review the work itself, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, would require at least a book-length work. (See, for example, The Piper and the Bard, by Robert F. Gleckner, Wayne State UP, 1959, which I have already reviewed for LibraryThing, q.v.). What I shall do here instead is simply make some suggestions about reading the work as a whole, and illustrate what I mean with a few examples. Whether you are reading it for the first or the fiftieth time, you will find these pertinent: (1) Read the designs as well as the texts. (2) Go from Plate 1 to Plate 2, etc., in order. (3) Consider Blake’s introductions as instructions on how to read the poems. (4) Re-read, finding contraries among the texts and the designs in the two books. . (5) Finally, find ways to read the work as a whole –not just as series of individual poems/designs – though they certainly make rewarding reading in precisely that way.

The way to begin reading a Blake work is to begin with Plate 1, for each plate prepares the reader for the next one and the one after that. The title page of this work is no exception. A nude couple, whom Blake’s readers in the eighteenth century would have immediately recognized as Adam and Eve, are being driven from Paradise (Innocence) by waves of flames. They are hiding their faces with their arms, as if they are weeping. The male figure is hovering over the female, perhaps in a protective position, perhaps with sexual suggestiveness. They have attempted to clothe themselves with foliage, as all readers then would have recognized, though the slight lines do not look much like foliage. Indeed, they are suggestive of pubic hair, perhaps implying another kind of passage from Innocence to Experience, that is, from childhood to adolescence, from unawareness to awareness, from asexuality to sexual passions, from childlike curiosity to moral responsibility, from a sense of oneness with family, home, nature, the universe to a sense of separation, even alienation.

The dark flames whipping the nude couple and ascending up the page dominate this initial design, suggesting the gate of flame in the Garden of Eden, but also the flames of Hell. This design dominates the page visually, but set against the flames and focusing one’s attention, of course, are the words of the title:

Songs
Of
Innocence
& Of
Experience

Showing the Two Conrtary States
of the Human Soul

The words Innocence and Experience are set in block letters in the yellowish and red of the flames against the clouds of smoke; but dominant among the words on the title page is Songs , set in green, larger than the other text, sprouting tendrils, as it were, almost like the vines and foliage of nature. In other words, Songs rises above Innocence and Experience, vastly outweighs both, and indeed stands out against the fallen experience suggested by the page as a whole. The very appearance of the word Songs partakes of the Garden, the profusion and sinuous curvatures of nature, defying the square, mechanical correctness of the other words on the title page but also the suffering and vehemence of the design.

In other words, the Songs to which we are about to be treated in this book may be seen as growing out of – and outgrowing – both the states of Innocence and of Experience. The Songs themselves – the poetry and the illustrations – transcend both states of Innocence and Experience and achieve a higher innocence, a higher, freer level of vision.

As we are aware, and probably Blake’s original readers were also aware, Songs of Innocence had already appeared on its own as a separate book, but Songs of Experience was not to appear in such a stand-alone format. Somehow that seems ironically appropriate; for the Innocent One is naïve and unaware of the pressures and tensions of Experience, but after one has entered the state of Experience one is always aware of memories of Innocence. As modern psychology has demonstrated time and time again, we never move very far away from the child-within, that innocent whom we never completely forget or abandon. We are keenly aware of the state which we have already passed through, though in that state we were blissfully unaware of the state into which we have not yet entered. As prospective readers, at this point we immediately find ourselves wanting to jump ahead to various ones of the familiar songs to illustrate these points, but – no – let’s take one plate at a time.

From this point on, every plate deserves and rewards this kind of reflection. The two books (26 more plates with nineteen songs for Songs of Innocence, 27 plates with twenty-six songs for Songs of Experience) are parallel, contrastive, and complementary – or to use Blake’s own term, contrary. They do NOT refute or negate one another but are contraries, each reflecting and correcting the other. The Songs, however, do not always achieve this in precisely parallel ways, not at all. However, each book does have a frontispiece, a title page, and an introduction which are more or less parallel. These introduce the Piper and the Bard, the voices of Innocence and Experience. The title pages themselves are contraries: Songs of Innocence rich with foliage, living creatures, curves, frills, and soft, italic lettering; Songs of Experience hard, square, and barren, a scene of old age, even senility or death, the very word itself stiff and Roman; however, curiously, even here Songs has a bit of foliage, especially on the left-hand side and two (loving?) humans flying towards each other under its coverage.

Of my suggestions for reading the Songs, I think I have amply illustrated two: read the designs as well as the texts, begin with Plate 1. You really should proceed the first time from Plate 1 to Plate 2 to Plate 3 to Plate 4, and so on. Plate 4 is the first song simply titled “Introduction” (the frontispiece to Innocence, by the way, is an illustration to “Introduction”).

In this prefatory poem we meet the Piper, who receives his instructions from a child on a cloud. “Pipe a song about a Lamb.” “Piper pipe that song again.” “Sing thy songs of happy chear.” “Piper sit thee down and write / In a book that all may read.” The piper follows the instructions step by step, and the child’s response, to each one, is the response of a ideal, or idyllic child: “Merry chear.” “He wept to hear.” “He wept with joy to hear.” What you have here is Blake’s original fourfold vision: Innocence (“merry chear,” happy but naïve, unaware), Experience (“wept to hear,” awareness of sorrow, troubles, struggling but uncreatively), and Innocence & Experience (“wept with joy,” a balance of the two, captured creatively; for example, in songs). We might think of the third level as a higher Innocence, approaching what I have called “seeing the work as a whole.”

To comply with the child’s fourth instruction – sit down and write, the Piper once again takes four steps, again corresponding to the fourfold vision, this time on the part of the writer/designer that Blake himself had become:

And I pluck’d a hollow reed.

And I made a rural pen,
And I stain’d the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs.

The artist draws his tools from natural materials (a hollow reed, empty, meaningless of itself), shapes them to his use (a pen), takes a creative risk that, based on experience, he knows may go wrong (stains the water clear), and produces his art (wrote the songs), capturing them in the lasting form of a book

Every child may joy to hear.

The response to that fourth step (writing the songs) is that he recreates for all time, for all folk, what has been lost and is found again: Paradise, Innocence. In his later version of the fourfold vision Blake will call this Eden, or the New Jerusalem. Songs of Innocence is one gate to that eternal city, one room in that heavenly mansion – the vestibule maybe. Songs of Innocence and Experience is another, maybe stairs that lead to the Grand Foyer. “The Introduction” instructs us to look carefully for these four steps as we proceed. As readers too, like the Piper, we may begin with what we’ve perceived in nature and learned from our own experience, but eventually we have to take a risk – use our imaginations to recreate what can never be perceived or experienced or achieved with our own reasoning. We must “stain the water clear.” Blake, the piper/bard, has etched the songs in stone, as it were, and imprinted them on paper for all time, for all people. Our task is to recreate them in our own vision – to read them, yes; to sing them ourselves, yes; but also to construct from them a meaningful vision.

Henceforth, each book has songs that are obvious contraries: “The Chimney Sweeper” (Plates 12 and 37), “Holy Thursday” (Plates 19 and 33), nurses’ songs (Plates 24 and 38), little boys lost (Plates 13 and 50), and the like. Best known are “The Lamb” (Plate 8) and “The Tyger” (Plate 42), not exact contraries, but close; likewise, there are “The Divine Image” (Plate18) and “The Human Abstract” (Plate 47); notice the association of “image” with “divine” and “abstract” with “human,” or fallen nature. Note too that Blake did a much more brutal contrastive plate, “A Divine Image,” which he never included in the book or hand-colored as far as we know, but which is appended to the end of this copy.

Let us explore one set of contraries: “Infant Joy” and “Infant Sorrow,” though the two are hardly parallel at all. “Infant Joy” (Plate 23) is the most genuine “song of innocence,” and its design is perhaps the most beautiful, the most striking, and the most colorful of all fifty-four plates. It is dominated by a large, generic blossom, arising from roots at the bottom right, its stem rising gracefully up the left margin, the blossom itself taking up almost half the plate with its brilliant scarlet color and inviting, open shape. Also arising from the root is an unopened bud, hanging in the right margin. The foliage is bright green, the background, shades of blue. Inside the blossom, instead of a stamen and pistil, is a miniature “annunciation” scene, in pastel yellows: a mother holding a presumably newborn or newly conceived child, and a winged creature standing before them, hands raised, as in a blessing.

The words of the song are a dialog: the voices of the Innocent and of a respondent (perhaps the mother, the winged messenger, the child’s father, the piper himself, or even you the reader).

I have no name
I am but two days old. –
What shall I call thee?
I happy am
Joy is my name, –
Sweet joy befall thee!

The epitome of simplicity, this text is almost meaningless, and certainly unelaborated, without the accompanying design. The ideal Innocent, a sweet babe in both word and design, has just emerged (from birth, from conception, from creation, from the artist’s/poet’s imagination?); it has no name; then almost immediately, the Innocent, emerges into language: “Joy is my name – “ The language of the poem is plain, exclamatory, emotive, even prayerful. “Sweet joy befall thee.”

“Infant Sorrow” (Plate 48) in Songs of Experience, on the other hand, gives us a realistic picture of the unhappy child we all know from experience – perhaps even remember from our own experience. Its parents groan and weep, not only with the pangs of birth but with the disconsolate feeling of having brought a child into a hard, “fallen” world. The child speaks articulately of its own fate, describing itself as helpless, naked, “piping loud,” struggling, striving – not unlike all children in the “real world.” Finally, exhausted, this infant concludes, “Bound and weary, I thought best / To sulk upon my mother’s breast.” The idyllic “Infant Joy,” has been reduced to a realistic “Infant Sorrow,” which itself has been reduced to sulkiness. One can almost envision young parents anticipating their first child, the creation of their passionate union, the ideal they pictured before its birth, and then the hardships of the colicky, restless, helpless, naked baby, “piping loud.” Indeed, they do find themselves groaning and weeping, resenting this sulky child, and consequently growing sulky themselves. That’s Experience!

There is, however, no parallel between the design for “Infant Sorrow,” and its Innocent predecessor. No gloriously beautiful blossoms here; no annunciation scenes. Instead, a nursemaid (or perhaps a mother), looking angry or at least very solemn, is putting the naked child down on a hard “bassinette” or “changing board” beside a comfy, soft, lushly curtained bed in the background. If you look for the contrary of this design in Songs of Innocence, you will find it accompanying the poem “A Cradle Song” (Plates 16-17): the nursemaid (or mother) in the same long, purple gown is seated, tenderly watching over the sleeping infant, who is covered (well, yes, bound, if you will) on a soft pillow in an elaborate “bassinette” with a high, stately headpiece, a super-dignified version of the cocoon-like sleeping place provided for infants for the first few months: almost an exact contrary of the design for “Infant Sorrow.”

And where is the parallel for the design of “Infant Joy”? Get ready for something of a shock. It’s “The SICK ROSE” [caps Blake’s, not mine].

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does they life destroy.

If “Infant Joy” is read as the moment of conception, the ecstasy of sexual union, “The SICK ROSE” (Plate 39) is its contrary – illicit, joyless sex, perhaps even rape. The design is a precise contrary for “Infant Joy”: the blossom springs from roots on the left-hand (or sinister) side of the page; the vine is thorny and the leaves spiky; the rose itself has fallen to the ground, all the way to the right side of the page; two human figures on the vine are weeping, hiding their countenances; crawling up the vine is a caterpillar, noted in Blake’s age for its destructive power with plants; a worm is entering the rose and a winged figure (Joy?) is attempting to escape; the red of the rose, unlike the brilliant scarlet of the blossom in “Infant Joy,” is a grayish-pink. There is no promising rosebud in this illustration. One does not have to be a student of visual symbolism or psychosexual imagery to apply this picture of the sick rose to “thy bed / Of crimson joy” in the poem – or to contrast the pleasure, passion, ecstatic delight, and release of sexual conception (in the design for “Infant Joy”) and the anguish, pain, disappointment, flaccidity, and burden of, say, an unwanted pregnancy or the birth of a child into poverty, hardship, and/or homelessness (in the design for “The SICK ROSE”).

This example alone is enough to demonstrate the complexity and subtlety – the surprise; indeed, the shock – of some of the contrary “states” represented in the two books. By the way, the textual contrary of “The SICK ROSE,” is “The Blossom” (Plate 11) in Songs of Innocence.

Merry Merry Sparrow
Under leaves so green
A happy blossom
Sees you swift as arrow
Seek your cradle narrow
Near my bosom.

Without going into detail, you can immediately see connections with the design for “Infant Joy,” the text for “The SICK ROSE,” and, considering the “sobbing sobbing” Robin of its second stanza, with the text for “Infant Sorrow.” The design for “The Blossom” is, however, NOT “leaves so green,” but what appears to be a flame of yellows and reds, arching up the right-hand margin and over the text of the poem with many fairy-like, infantile creatures playing on the arch. Of course, if the flames had been colored green they would have been perfectly designed foliage. Given the sexual allusions in the texts, Sir Geoffrey is not too far off in identifying the flames as “the organ of generation both flaccid and erect.” And, if the petals of the blossom in the design for “Infant Joy” had been colored orange instead of scarlet (as I’ve heard they are in some of Blake’s originals), they would have been closely akin to the flames in this design for “The Blossom.”

Oh, and to continue the connections, the text for “The Divine Image” in Songs of Innocence is framed by arches of flames, almost exactly like those for “The Blossom.”

To Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
All pray in their distress:
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

And all these flames, trees, foliage, blossoms are explained by the Bard in “The Human Abstract.” The human mind has formulated its own explanation, but that abstract statement is given imaginative form in the song and its design: a tree of life drawn by the artist (it’s pictured as a very dead tree) and written in the figurative language of the poet:

The Gods of the earth and sea,
Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree
But their search was all in vain;
There grows one in the Human Brain.

You can keep seeing connections among texts, designs, Innocence and Experience, almost infinitum. After all, that is a major part of the pleasure of the book(s) and the challenge of Blake’s message/vision. For Innocence and Experience turn out to be two sides of the same coin, two insights into the same reality, parallel, contrastive, complementary, and interlocking. Indeed, if you now reread the work as a whole, you will find the two states underlying (and undermining) each other, one often if now always implicit in the other.

Take, for example, the two most familiar poems from the work, “The Lamb” and “The Tyger.” They begin with parallel questions:

Little Lamb who made thee
Does thou know who made thee

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

The question in “The Lamb,” as you will recall, is answered simply but allusively:

He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:

and immediately in this sweet poem of innocence, all wooly delight, the perceptive reader is thrust onto the apex of human suffering and sacrifice (“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”; “like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep before its shearers is dumb”).

The question in “The Tyger,” as you will also recall, is answered with a whole series of questions, culminating with the ultimate one:

Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

. . . .
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
[note the change in wording and tone from the first stanza]

But, just in case you’re overwhelmed by these questions – their irony, their complexity, their cynicism, their disbelief, or their horror – look at the design that accompanies the text. Who dares to “frame” the “fearful symmetry” of the Tyger? Well, Blake himself, of course: the illustrator, who has “framed” the tiger, beneath the barren tree. Frankly it doesn’t look all their fearsome; it looks rather unintimidating, the eye apprehensive, if not downright fearful (i.e., full of fear). But wait, the text didn’t say that the Tyger, Tyger was fearsome, did it? In fact the whole poem is about the creator of the Tyger (his hand or eye, his wings, his shoulder & art, his hammer, his chain, his furnace, his anvil, his dread grasp, and the like). All we hear of the Tyger in the text is that it is “burning bright” and has burning, fiery eyes. But wait. Even those eyes are ambivalent:

In what distant deeps or skies,
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

So, as it turns out, “The Tyger” is not about a fearsome creature at all, but about the creative act that could “frame”such a creature. “Did he smile his work to see?” Well, if he’s William Blake and has just etched the design for the rather ordinary tiger, actually just a big pussy cat, I think he probably did smile to see his work. “Fearful symmetry”? Oh, yes, I’m sure he must have. Did he also make (i.e., write/illustrate) the Lamb? Yep, “The Lamb” and “The Tyger.” Both of them. They have been made manageable with the fires of creativity. And now we begin to see what all these flames mean – from the title page to “The Blossom,” “The Divine Image,” and the petals of the blossom in “Infant Joy.” They are the fires of creativity, of the creative artist, who has to work with his hands, his eye, and the ordinary tools of his trade.

You gotta see the fearsomeness of Experience for what it is. Manageable. Now reread “The Little Girl Lost” and “The Little Girl Found,” and you will see Blake framing lions and leopards and tigers the way Christian imagists have long framed them; for example, “the couching lion”

When he licks their hands:
And silent by them stands

They look upon his eyes
Fill’d with deep surprise:
And wondering behold,
A spirit arm’d in gold.

The Lamb of God, you will recall, is also the Lion of Judah – the two, one and the same.

Originally these two poems were written for Songs of Innocence, then moved into Songs of Experience. It all depends on the perspective you take: the parents who’ve lost their child (in Experience), or the maiden sleeping “Among tigers wild” (in Innocence). Both perspectives, of course, are accurate – true, if you will – and both are inaccurate or limited, the one incomplete without the other. The “fierce” felines in the designs to these poems bear a striking resemblance to the “Tyger, Tyger, burning bright / In the forests of the night.”

Perhaps the most beautiful, certainly the most intricate. of the Songs of Innocence is “The Little Black Boy” (Plates 9-10, right between “The Lamb” and “The Blossom”), which deals with race, slavery, discrimination, suffering, and death; yet it is a song of innocence.

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams [flames] of love . . . .

As hard as I try, I can still think of this only as a song of experience. I have not the vision of a William Blake. “I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

“The School-Boy” (Plate 53) is another song that was composed for Songs of Innocence, but later moved to Songs of Experience. It is probably my personal favorite of all the songs. I was that school-boy. The child within me – very much alive and still kicking, “piping loud,” if you will – is still that school-boy. Oh, and Blake was 100% right: it belongs among songs of experience.

How can the bird that is born for joy,
Sit in a cage and sing.
How can a child when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring.

“The Voice of the Ancient Bard” (Plate 54, the last one) begins with a Song of Higher Innocence, an ascension to the heights of imagination:

Youth of delight come hither,
And see the opening morn,
Image of truth new born.
Doubt is fled & clouds of reason,
Dark disputes & artful teasing . . . .

That’s the state that we readers must reach if we are to share Blake’s vision, just as the Piper has had to achieve this state to create his songs and the designs that embody them: “Image of truth new born.” Because it’s a Song of Experience, “The Voice of the Ancient Bard” must conclude with lines about those who never reach this state, who stumble over “tangled roots” and “bones of the dead:”

And feel they know not what but care:
And wish to lead others when they should be led.

So as you read (and experience) this delightful book, these two books in one, do your best to see the work as a whole. By now you probably realize that the phrase "as a whole" refers to my persistent effort to give this illuminated work an "Edenic" reading. This includes, among several efforts, two Blakean readings:

(1) Reading the songs themselves not as traditional texts and illustrations, but as unities; for example, the words themselves as being visualized, sometimes even sprouitng folliage, hiding little characters and emblems, and stretching themselves in curves, serifs, and tendrils;likewise, the words and designs intertwining or interlocking and projecting themselves as inseparable (note the double meaning of the very word "characters").

(2) Reading the book not as two books in one (i.e., Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience) but as one single work (simultganeously, Songs of Innocence and of Experience; for, as we have seen, most (if not all) of the forty-five songs address to innocence and experience, though in some Innocence predominates or is re-envisoned (e.g., "Infant Joy") and in others, Experience (e.g., "London" with its "mind-forg'd manacles")/
There are other unities about which I am even less articulate,but at least these two will reward you as you "read" –and as you do so, don’t stumble over those roots and dead bones. Don’t try to tell the songs and designs what they mean; let them tell you. Take a risk. Move beyond doubts and narrow rationalism, beyond “Dark disputes & artful teasing.” Open yourself to an “Image of truth new born.” That moment will come.

I happy am
Joy is my name

You have my best wishes, my silent prayer, my blessing:

Sweet joy befall thee
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"Never before surely was a man so literally the author of his own book." - Alexander Gilchrist
Piping down the valleys wild,

Piping songs of pleasant glee,
Quotations
He who mocks the Infants Faith

Shall be mock'd in the Age & Death

He who shall teach the Child of Doubt

The rotting Grave shall neer get out (E492)
Blake claims that all religious beliefs, however various, have a common origin in the "Poetic Genius" (E1), the godlike spirit within all people.
A note that Blake wrote in his manuscript of "The Four Zoas" also cautions us against dismissing innocence as naivete: "Innocence dwells with Wisdom but never with Ignorance" (E697).
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Book description
This version of Blake's "Songs", edited by Robert N. Essick, presents Blake's 54 colour plates from "Innocence" and "Experience" along with an Introduction, transcription and extensive commentaries by Essick as he worked from the Huntington's copy E of the "Songs" commissioned by Thomas Butts in 1806. See below: Description (ISBN 0873282361)
Visionary, artist, poet and craftsman, William Blake had a unique view of the world around him. At the age of eight he saw 'a tree filled with angels,' and his perception of beauty in a paradisiacal arcadia shines from every naïve watercolour line of his paintings. Addressed to children, his poems are still loved today - 'Little Lamb who made thee/ Dost thou know who made thee' ('Lamb').
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192810898, Paperback)

Here is a beautifully illustrated edition of Blake's classic poems. The text of each poem is given in letterpress on the page facing the color plate, and a brief commentary by Sir Geoffrey Keynes on each poem follows. It is printed on paper especially manufactured to match the tint of that used by Blake.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:36:45 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

William Blake, the artist, writer and Romantic visionary who went largely unrecognised during his lifetime, is now hailed as one of Britain's greatest creative geniuses. The Songs of Innocence and of Experience contain some of Blake's best loved poems and form a stirring, poignant reflection on the range of human experience.Poetry.… (more)

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University of California Press

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