What are the major themes of the poem "On Another's Sorrow" by William Blake?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The major themes of the poem "On Another's Sorrow", from the poetical works of “Songs of Innocence” by William Blake are:

God’s love

William Blake addresses the issue of God in this nine stanza poem. Beginning in stanza four, Blake concerns himself with God’s concern for humankind and the rest...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The major themes of the poem "On Another's Sorrow", from the poetical works of “Songs of Innocence” by William Blake are:

God’s love

William Blake addresses the issue of God in this nine stanza poem. Beginning in stanza four, Blake concerns himself with God’s concern for humankind and the rest of His creation. Blake is bold in his proclamations here. In essence, Blake is asking if God, “who smiles on all,” hearing birds in trouble and the woes of infants, can not be close by and be empathetic to small birds (and also all his creatures) and infants. Blake is saying that God is a benevolent being who does care.

It doesn’t mean, in the case of human beings, that God doesn’t allow us to make mistakes based on our free will choices. We have free moral agency and some of our trials and tribulations are of our own doing, because of wrong choices. In fact, our wrong choices can affect others as well. Blake is saying that despite our imperfections and human frailty, God is watching and does empathize with living beings.

Faith

In this poem, Blake alludes to human beings needing to have faith in God. He is saying, subtly, that one must have faith in God because God sees and understands the hardships people endure and that he desires to give us his joy so that "…our grief He may destroy”.

Blake is saying that human beings should not think that God doesn’t hear our sighs or see our tears. God does lament for our burdens and pains and “He doth feel the sorrow too”.

Compassion

A third theme of this poem is compassion – our concern and care for others as they deal with life’s trials. William Blake emphasizes how we feel sorrow when we witness someone else’s affliction and grief. Blake writes in the first two lines of stanza number two:

“Can I see a falling tear,

And not feel my sorrow's share?”

He is saying that decent, thoughtful, and honorable human beings will have compassion for others as they see them suffering and will desire to ease their burdens. Kindheartedness is the foundation of compassion – a heart that feels for others’ plights. This should lead to constructive action to help others, beyond just mouthing words of support. It involves actually doing what needs to be done, even in a small way if that is all one can do, to help others survive and hopefully eventually prosper again in terms of health, as well as in other areas of their lives.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A major theme in the poem is empathy. The speaker talks about experiencing the sorrows and pains of other people and then feeling their pain himself.

Another theme is the idea that the maker (God) can take away sorrow and pain and redeem one who has suffered for his/her pains. The speaker expresses his belief that God is with people who are suffering.

The themes are similar to the Bible's beattitudes, especially the ones stating that those who are meek, lonely, and sorrowful will recieve compensation later in life.

I've linked to an analysis of the entire poem collection, a question on enotes that is somewhat similar to yours, and also the full text of the poem.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The major theme of this poem is that God both knows and feels all of our sorrows and pain, even as we feel them. God is described as smiling on everyone and everything and so hears even the wren's sorrows and griefs—even the infant's woes and cares. God, then, sits beside the nest or cradle, hearkening to their cries and weeping as they weep. Then, God tries to give His joy to everything and everyone in the hopes that He can destroy our grief or chase it away. Until one of those occurs, He sits by us and shares those griefs.

Another minor theme is that humans feel each other's pain and sorrows. The speaker suggests that when we see another's sorrow, we feel sorrowful too and want to succor him. When we see someone crying—a mother or father upset for their child—we cry too.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on