How does Blake explore the "two contrary states of the human soul" in Songs of Innocence and of Experience?

Blake explores the "two contrary states of the human soul" in Songs of Innocence and of Experience by juxtaposing the experience of faith, wonder, and joy of the childlike perspective with the sense of horror, doubt, and suffering one gains through experience in a fallen world.

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In Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Blake explores these two sides of the human soul through two sections of poems. The first section features the poems of innocence, which are written from a childlike perspective and feature senses of faith, naive wonder, and optimism that characterize childhood. The second section contains the poems of experience, which are more cynical and even tragic. They feature suffering and doubt in the goodness of the world. The segregation of the two sections is meant to suggest the inevitable progression from innocence to the experience that comes with living in a fallen world.

Blake further emphasizes his point by having certain poems act as direct parallels of one another. Sometimes these poems even have the same titles, such as "Holy Thursday." In the Innocence section, "Holy Thursday" describes a group of orphaned children going to the cathedral to sing. They are well cared for and happy. In the Experience section, "Holy Thursday" is much darker: the orphans, who seemed cared for and content in the original, are shown as miserable, their singing in the church less music and more a "trembling cry."

The juxtaposition of these two poems allows the reader a glimpse at Blake's strategy for contrasting man's good faith and knowledge of the evils of the world. Both poems depict the same situation, but the Innocence poem, sweet as it is, remains ignorant of the full situation., while the Experience poem, in its knowledge of the injustice done to children, cannot glimpse any beauty in the children's singing at all.

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In "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," William Blake wrote, "Without Contraries is no progression." This perspective helps readers understand Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, a collection of poems in two parts. Poems from Songs of Innocence present life from a child's trusting viewpoint in which a benevolent God and kind people soften the rough spots of life. Poems that represent "Songs of Experience" were added later and released in the combined volume in 1794. They view life in all its ugliness and pain. To best reach the truth, Blake suggests, one must consider both sides of a topic. Several poems in the first section have matched counterparts in the second section.

"Holy Thursday" from Songs of Innocence portrays a group of orphans, led by the beadles, filing into St. Paul's Cathedral. Described as "these flowers of London town," they have a "radiance all their own." Likewise, the elderly men, "wise guardians of the poor," are presented favorably. However, in the counterpart "Holy Thursday," readers see a dark and cynical description of the same event. The orphans are described as "babes reduced to misery, fed with cold and usurous hand." Instead of using flowers as metaphors, Blake uses "bleak & bare" fields and "thorns," insisting that "it is eternal winter" in the lives of these children. This poem decries the fact that children should live in poverty and hunger.

Likewise, Blake juxtaposes "Infant Joy" with "Infant Sorrow." The first poem praises the blessing of a newborn baby, repeating "sweet joy" four times within the twelve lines of the poem. "Infant Sorrow" presents an angry, struggling, sulking newborn whose parents "groand" [sic] and "wept" upon his arrival. Certainly these two poems represent the "contrary states of the human soul" well: "I happy am," and, "Into the dangerous world I leapt."

By presenting these two poles of human life, Blake allows readers to enjoy the pleasures of life from the perspective of naive optimism while also acknowledging the pain that people endure from their own choices and from circumstances they can't control. The beauty of life is more attractive when juxtaposed with the ugly, and the ugly is more stark when compared to the lovely. Looking at both honestly should motivate people to strive to eliminate the bad and cultivate the good.

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Blake explores the two contrary states of the human soul in his collection of poems called Songs of Innocence and Experience, which is subtitled "Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul." The two contrary states he examines correspond to the Biblical state of innocence before the Fall—before humans ate of the tree of Good and Evil—and the state that followed. After the Fall, humans began to live, as we do today, in the world of experience, which includes a clear knowledge of evil.

Blake sees the child's experience of the world as one of innocence, and he explores that world through a child's simple eyes. Some of the most wrenching poems, such as "The Chimney Sweep," depict children who are still innocent and trusting despite being exploited for gain in the most evil of ways.

Poems like "The Lamb" are innocent lullabies about a gentle world where an all-loving, protective God is identified with meekness of the baby lamb. Other poems, like "The Tyger," raise questions about why the God who created the lamb also created a beautiful but predatory animal like the tiger.

The poems are a shout out for a return to a more innocent state, and as we read them all through the lens of experience, we fear for the innocent children who do not know how cruel the world can be. We wish the world were a kinder place. Blake's poems thus raise the question of why we don't work harder to make the world a kinder place and more like paradise before the Fall.

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The universal ideology of Blake constructs a view of human life that is even more complicated than what conventional binary thinking produces. Blake accomplishes this through his poetic investigation of the “two contrary states of the human soul.” Blake’s complication of the binary is not detaching the two states from one another, but in fact, creating a new unity.

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