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Comparison of William Blake: Songs of Innocence and Songs Of Experience

Updated on May 10, 2013

Analysis and Themes

Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs Of Experience represent the difference between what may be interpreted as two opposite states of mind or states of being. Innocence refers to a state of joy due to ignorance, whereas experience refers to a state of sorrow due to knowledge. Ignorance and knowledge in this sense are blanket terms that encompass an array of other things but are represented most vividly by the two poems by Blake, Infant Joy and Infant Sorrow, which show precisely the contrast between them.

Infant Joy

Infant Joy shows the happiness of a newborn baby. This baby is new to the world and in a state of joy and happiness. The poem conveys that the true state of happiness is very simple and goes back to the simplest of emotions. There is nothing clouding the baby's thoughts, as he doesn't have a worry in the world. The baby lacks knowledge because he hasn't been exposed to any kind of suffering, and doesn't even have an idea about what the world is really like. It's interesting to note that this poem is written from the baby's perspective in the present, whereas Infant Sorrow is written in the past tense.

Infant Sorrow

Infant Sorrow depicts childbirth, just like Infant Joy. However, as the person speaking in the poem has already grown older, and has experienced the harsh realities of the world, his views on childhood itself have changed. This poem looks at childhood in a very pessimistic and ugly way. It starts off describing how the mother is groaning while the baby is entering into the "dangerous world," and later explains that the baby is helpless and is just a nuisance to it's parents.


Both poems accurately depict the idea of childbirth and the events that take place surrounding it, so why is it that they have such contradictory messages behind them? One looks at the beauty of it all, while the other suggests that the beauty is overshadowed by everything else and rendered insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Arguably, Infant Sorrow looks at childbirth more realistically. The mother is obviously in a lot of pain, and the baby undoubtedly brings a lot of sleepless nights into the family. However, it's generally accepted that childbirth is a happy occasion and that the woes associated with it are trivial in comparison to the beauty of life.

Life itself however, in an anti-pastoral point of view, can be seen as a state of prolonged suffering. Infant Sorrow coincides with this belief, whereas Infant Joy represents the opposing pastoral view. In Infant Sorrow, the child has grown up and has experienced life; it is looking back at all of the events that took place during its birth. The child now has suffered pain, loss, and everything else associated with humanity. Essentially, Infant Sorrow can be compared to The Fall, where humanity gained knowledge about reality and death. With this knowledge, everything is no longer happy and bliss, since the child is aware that things besides perfection exist.

On the other hand, Infant Joy can be seen as a representation of the pastoral world, before The Fall. In this world, the baby lives in a metaphorical Garden of Eden. There is no evil or hatred in this world, only love. In fact, there is no negativity at all in this world, as such, its inhabitants don’t know of anything but the positive. They cannot differentiate between good or evil, because there is no evil to counter balance the good. Essentially, this world can be described as perfection, although arguably it is due to a state of ignorance.

This ignorance is what also divides the line between Classicism and Romanticism. The Classicists see the world objectively, and so side with the narrator of Infant Joy. They rely on facts and empirical proofs, and so a major criticism of them is that they are narrow-minded. They live in a bubble and so their beliefs are really hard to change. This narrow-mindedness isn't all bad though, as depicted by the poem. The baby is obviously happy, and his innocence is what allows him to feel this happiness. Other things that coincide with innocence are things like morning, or spring. These things are new and fresh, sort of like a baby. In a way, they are untainted by the "darkness" of experience.

The artwork for Infant Joy and Infant Sorrow also depict a mood correlating to innocence and experience, respectively. Infant Joy uses bright colors with flowers in a bright blue sky. The mother is holding the baby in her arms on her lap, while an angel watches over them. This representation is similar to that of a pastoral world, where everything is in a state of perfection. The flower that holds the mother and the baby is also a metaphorical barrier that shields them off from the outside world. Another significant thing to note is that the mother and child are placed over the poem, which again makes the scene seem very heavenly and pastoral.

On the other hand, Infant Sorrow's depiction of the mother and the child is below the poem, showing how the anti-pastoral world is on a lower level than the pastoral world. In this artwork, the mother isn't holding the baby, but rather seems to be struggling to hold it while the baby's arms are raised in a state of discomfort. They both seem to be struggling to make a connection, and the mother's body is even arched in an uncomfortable way. They are also outside and leaves can be seen on the ground (a hint at autumn) and the comfortable bedroom can be seen in the background. This artwork also uses darker colors such as blues and greys.

This is why experience is always represented by night or autumn, which similar to an adult has changed over time from morning and spring. This view, represented by Infant Sorrow, goes hand-in-hand with the romanticist’s beliefs. They see the pain and hard work involved in childbirth, and so are effectively able to see the bigger picture. In contrast to classicist beliefs, romanticists are said to be open-minded. This open-mindedness though isn't always a good thing, as modern society may dictate. People often get so caught up in the bigger picture that they fail to recognize the simplistic beauty of things, which is exactly what is happening in Infant Sorrow.

Just as Infant Sorrow fails to recognize the beauty of childbirth, Infant Joy also fails to realize that childbirth comes with its fair share of woes. Both poems depict polar views and neither one is any more "right" than the other. In fact, they are complementary poems because they make the reader realize that both of them are right in their own way. As such, both classicists and romanticists are right in their own ways as well, the only problem being that they lack what the other offers. Combining both ways of thinking, which modern society has gradually come towards on its own, is what is encouraged nowadays. Most people employ a mix of the two, which teaches them to stick to their fundamental beliefs whilst not being afraid of change. Both Infant Joy and Infant Sorrow show two sides of the same coin, and should be appreciated for reflecting both truths about childbirth.


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