Please provide a critical appreciation of William Blake's poem, "On Another's Sorrow." 

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kateanswers eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poem "On Another's Sorrow" by William Blake deals with empathy and compassion for others. This poem tackles an interesting psychological question and answers it through religious content. It opens by questioning how one could not feel troubled when seeing another person in pain. What is it about sadness that is so infectious? Why do we feel the troubles of others so deeply? Blake considers the compassion he has for others in general and goes on to employ the very powerful examples of mothers and fathers feeling the pain of their children. Blake even mentions the sorrows of little wrens and how God feels their pain, too.

The poem expresses that human empathy is an extension of God's empathy. God has compassion for all beings, from little birds to babies to grown men. God has made us (the living beings) and so he feels our joys and sorrows. Humans share in this compassion for one another and for other living beings, especially those we are related to. Compassion is a Godly feeling and is evidence of God's presence within us and nearby us.

The AABB rhyme scheme of the poem establishes a pattern which encourages us to read further. We are drawn on by the language and rhythm of the poem until we conclude with the ninth stanza. Much of the poem is phrased in a questioning nature--is it possible to feel another's sorrow? Does God not feel the sorrow of even the tiniest creature? The ninth stanza establishes a coda, reaffirming the earlier content of the poem--that God has empathy for all and we share in this empathy. Most importantly, the poem concludes with God's empathy for us as the readers. We are assured that even when we are in troubled times, it is not without the empathy of God and those around us.