person standing with arms and legs outstretched surrounded by flowers, leaves, and little stars

Songs of Innocence and of Experience

by William Blake

Start Free Trial

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

Quick answer:

The major themes of "On Another's Sorrow" by William Blake include God's love, faith, compassion, and empathy. The poem portrays God as a benevolent being who empathizes with human suffering and desires to alleviate it. It emphasizes the need for human faith in God's understanding and caring nature, while also highlighting the importance of compassion and empathy among people, as they feel and share the sorrows of others. This compassion should lead to actions that help alleviate the sufferings of others.

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 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.


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”.


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
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
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.

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

What would be a critical appreciation of William Blake's poem "On Another's Sorrow"?

A critical appreciation of this poem by Blake would address both form and content. It would identify what the poet does, and explain how those things relate to what he says.

Formally, then, this is a 36 line lyric poem made up of 9 quatrains. There is a strict rhyme scheme: AABB CCDD, etc. The first two lines of each stanza rhyme, as do the next two. The lines are brief, and have only seven syllables per line. Taken in combination, this gives an energetic, youthful feel to this poem, and pulls readers along briskly. There is considerable repetition, especially of rhetorical questions ("Can I..." "Can I...) and evocations or calls to action (the repeated calls to hear things). There are numerous images, but they are simple and familiar. This too makes the poem accessible. You don't have to fight the technique to get the message.

All of this aligns well with the profound message: the narrator cannot bear to see people or beings in pain, and neither can God, who is always there in times of sorrow.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on