Discuss Blake's use of symbols in Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

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William Blake's use of symbols in Songs of Innocence and Experience are multi-faceted and complex. Similar symbols recur throughout both halves of the text, and Blake uses these reoccurring symbols to further develop the themes within his poems.

For example, churches are often used as negative symbols, referring to...

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William Blake's use of symbols in Songs of Innocence and Experience are multi-faceted and complex. Similar symbols recur throughout both halves of the text, and Blake uses these reoccurring symbols to further develop the themes within his poems.

For example, churches are often used as negative symbols, referring to Blake's condemnation of organized religion's hypocrisy and repressive laws. In the poem "The Chimney Sweep" from Songs of Experience, the church is presented as a place people go to in order to feel holy and respectable while ignoring the suffering going on outside. The chimney sweeper condemns his parents, who let him freeze during his work while they go to church, feeling they have not done ill by their son since he finds small comfort in songs.

Flowers emerge as symbols in several poems as well, usually representing beauty and joy. In "The Garden of Love," the flowers representing childhood liberation are replaced by graves. The titular flower in "The Lilly" is contrasted with the thorny rose as a symbol of pure love that does not hurt those who seek to admire it. However, even the symbol of the flower is not always fully positive.

In "My Pretty Rose Tree," the speaker does not receive full pleasure from the rose tree, since it "turned away with jealousy, / And her thorns were my only delight." Though the speaker has been faithful to his tree, ignoring the offer of a lovelier flower at the start of the poem, he is not rewarded for his devotion.

As can be seen from the example of the flower in particular, Blake often builds upon his use of previous symbols, complicating their meaning and relationship with the themes of innocence and experience.

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While the poems in “Songs of Innocence and Experience" may seem simple, Blake’s use of symbolism is quite complicated. Beginning with the title, I think Blake sees “innocence" and “experience" as two all-encompassing ways of being that exist simultaneously in the world. The famous pairing of the two poems “The Lamb” and “The Tyger” bear this out. In “The Lamb,” the lamb clearly symbolizes the work of a benevolent creator; the existence of the lamb is proof of God’s love for the world. In “The Tyger,” on the other hand, symbolizes all that is evil and terrible in the world, and suggests that God is brutally indifferent to both the sufferings of mankind. Blake himself poses the contradiction as a kind of accusation in the poem: “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”

While it is tempting to read these symbols in a one dimensional, simplistic way, Blake’s worldview is not simple, and his handling of symbols allows him to create, in just a very few lines, a sense of the essential doubleness of the world. Take, for instance, “The Sick Rose.” This is a poem rife with symbols: the rose itself, the “invisible worm,” the “bed of crimson joy.” I think the way to read such a poem, or to understand these symbols, is to resist trying to assign specific meanings to them, but instead try to observe how these meanings are interlinked. How you understand the symbolic meaning of the rose, for example, changes how you interpret the other symbols in the poem.

I think the point of these poems, and their symbolism, is to embody, in the language itself, what Blake saw as the essential symbolic nature of reality.

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This is a pretty big topic, and the first thing I would suggest is to narrow down your topic to a smaller thesis, as Blake uses several symbols and Songs of Innocence and Experience covers a lot of territory.

One recurring symbol that Blake uses is that of the Lamb, not only in the poem of that title, but in several of his other poems from that series, such as the Chimney Sweep. Blake's lamb is a multi-layered symbol in that it represents innocence, children and Christ all at the same time. You might want to frame your paper around that, using the poem "The Lamb" as your starting point. Then, you can look at how he uses the same symbol in other poems in the series.

You don't indicate if your essay is a research paper or just a response paper, but you can create the basic structure of a response paper by using the three intepretations of the Lamb and elaborating on each one as it occurs in several of the poems.  Then, if you need to add research, you can probably get what you need from the databases at your particular college and hang your supporting research on the framework you've already created in your response.

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