Songs of Innocence and of Experience Criticism - Essay

William Blake

Donald A. Dike (essay date December 1961)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Dike, Donald A. “The Difficult Innocence: Blake's Songs and Pastoral.” ELH 28, no. 4 (December 1961): 353-75.

[In the following essay, Dike contends that although Blake writes in the pastoral tradition in Songs of Innocence, he does not portray an idyllic paradise that ignores social realities.]

Blake's Songs of Experience disclose the second, and more recognizable, of two contrary states of the soul to be one or another kind of bondage. The introductory poems identify the soul with Earth: a voluntaristic principle most vividly apprehended in the energies of springtime and the frank delights of love. But love, alas, is cramped and...

(The entire section is 9303 words.)

Martin Price (essay date 1964)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Price, Martin. “The Vision of Innocence.” In Twentieth Century Interpretations of Songs of Innocence and of Experience: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Morton D. Paley, pp. 36-48. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

[In the following excerpt, originally published in 1964, Price examines the poems of Songs of Innocence independently of the contrasting elements contained in Songs of Experience.]

William Blake's Songs of Innocence were engraved by 1789. Not until five years later were they incorporated into The Songs of Innocence and Experience, Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. Partly because...

(The entire section is 4866 words.)

D. G. Gillham (essay date 1966)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Gillham, D. G. “Blake's Criticism of ‘Love.’” In Blake's Contrary States: The Songs of Innocence and of Experience as Dramatic Poems, pp. 148-90. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966.

[In the following excerpt, Gillham discusses Blake's treatment of sexual love in the Songs as a way of demonstrating the common features of all modes of love.]

It is generally agreed that Blake wrote the Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience at different periods: in 1789 and 1793, although the evidence that they were written at just this interval is by no means conclusive.1 Yet even if this interval in composition is...

(The entire section is 13710 words.)

Heather Glen (essay date 1978)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Glen, Heather. “Blake's Criticism of Moral Thinking in Songs of Innocence and of Experience.” In Interpreting Blake, edited by Michael Phillips, pp. 32-69. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

[In the following excerpt, Glen discusses Blake's treatment of social problems, particularly those involving moral and ethical issues, in the Songs.]

Songs of Innocence and of Experience are mostly concerned with what would usually be described as moral questions. Many of them—especially of Songs of Innocence—seem, at least superficially, to belong to the recognizable eighteenth-century genre of moral songs for children; and Songs...

(The entire section is 15019 words.)

Harold C. Pagliaro (essay date summer 1981)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Pagliaro, Harold C. “Blake's ‘Self-annihilation’: Aspects of Its Function in the Songs, with a Glance at Its History.” English 30, no. 137 (summer 1981): 117-46.

[In the following essay, Pagliaro discusses Blake's handling of the Romantic discourse on death at a time when religious and social certainties about mortality were dissolving.]


Viewed historically, the English Romantics were heirs to a state of mind that gave death a prominent place in individual consciousness, where it was not likely to be controlled by orthodox faith. For generations before them, various analysts—sceptics, devout theologians, scientists,...

(The entire section is 12805 words.)

Heather Glen (essay date 1983)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Glen, Heather. “Poetic ‘Simplicity’: Blake's Songs and Eighteenth-Century Children's Verse.” In Vision and Disenchantment: Blake's Songs and Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads, pp. 8-32. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

[In the following excerpt, Glen traces the similarities between Blake's Songs and the verse appearing in the growing number of books intended for children in the eighteenth century.]

Those who are offended with any thing in this book would be offended with the innocence of a child & for the same reason, because it reproaches him with the errors of acquired folly.


(The entire section is 11554 words.)

Harriet Kramer Linkin (essay date summer 1986)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Linkin, Harriet Kramer. “The Language of Speakers in Songs of Innocence and of Experience.Romanticism Past and Present 10, no. 2 (summer 1986): 5-24.

[In the following essay, Linkin analyzes the speech patterns of the narrators of the individual poems in Songs.]

Like the eighteenth-century grammarians who view discourse as a template of the human mind, Blake correlates syntactic structures with patterns of thinking.1 In Songs of Innocence and of Experience, individual patterns of speech—or idiolects—reveal how characters organize their thoughts.2 The many conjunctions marking the innocent chimney sweeper's speech or...

(The entire section is 7219 words.)

Harold Pagliaro (essay date 1987)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Pagliaro, Harold. “Into the Dangerous World.” In Selfhood and Redemption in Blake's Songs, pp. 35-51. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1987.

[In the following excerpt, Pagliaro examines images of order and confinement in the Songs, particularly in regard to the power and control parents and other authority figures exercise over children.]

If life has no ordering principle, it cannot be sustained, but if the ordering principle is made to fix things too rigidly, life may be contracted to the very limits of individual self.1 To generalize the matter in the terms of the first two chapters, one might say that the...

(The entire section is 9695 words.)

Harold Bloom (essay date 1987)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Bloom, Harold. Introduction to William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, edited by Harold Bloom, pp. 1-28. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

[In the following introduction, Bloom discusses Blake's exploration of the ambivalent nature of innocence.]

Of the traditional “kinds” of poetry, Blake had attempted pastoral and satire at the very start, in the Poetical Sketches, though the satire there is subtle and tentative. In Tiriel, satire and tragedy are first brought together in a single work by Blake. Songs of Innocence is Blake's closest approach to pure pastoral, but an even subtler form of satire seems to be inherent in these...

(The entire section is 11385 words.)

Nelson Hilton (essay date 1998)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Hilton, Nelson. “William Blake, Songs of Innocence and of Experience.” In A Companion to Romanticism, edited by Duncan Wu, pp. 103-12. Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishers, 1998.

[In the following excerpt, Hilton offers an overview of criticism of Blake's Songs.]

‘Read patiently take not up this Book in an idle hour the consideration of these things is the whole duty of man & the affairs of life & death trifles sports of time these considerations business of Eternity.’ Blake's annotations to a volume he studied in 1798 (see Blake, ed. Erdman, p. 611, cited hereafter as E) can serve today to characterize the attention deserved and...

(The entire section is 5502 words.)

K. E. Smith (essay date 1999)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Smith, K. E. “Our Immortal Day: Songs of Innocence I.” In An Analysis of William Blake's Early Writings and Designs to 1790 Including Songs of Innocence, pp. 153-83. Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1999.

[In the following excerpt, Smith suggests various connections among the individual poems of Songs of Innocence.]

And there the lions ruddy eyes,
Shall flow with tears of gold:
And pitying the tender cries,
And walking round the fold:
Saying: wrath by his meekness,
And by his health, sickness,
Is driven away,
From our immortal day.

—‘Night’ (E [The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, Ed. David V. Erdman,...

(The entire section is 11219 words.)

Jon Mee (essay date 2000)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Mee, Jon. “William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience.” In A Companion to Literature from Milton to Blake, edited by David Womersley, pp. 402-07. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2000.

[In the following excerpt, Mee discusses the relationship between Blake's work and the poetry of his contemporaries.]

William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience certainly ranks among the most distinctive and individual collections of poetry in a century obsessed with originality and genius. It was not even published in a conventional way. Songs began life as an exercise in self-publishing, and never reached an audience in Blake's lifetime...

(The entire section is 2734 words.)