Little Lamb who made thee Dost thou know who made thee?
Blake's rhetorical question to the lamb leads him to answer that he who is called by the name of the lamb (the Lamb of God, i.e. Jesus Christ) created not only the lamb, but also the speaker of the poem and all good things in the world. The lamb's tender and meek qualities are offered as evidence of these same qualities in God.
When my mother died I was very young, And my father sold me while yet my tongue, Could scarcely cry weep weep weep weep. So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.
This introductory stanza to "The Chimney Sweeper" alludes to a practice Blake found abhorrent: the use of small children to clean chimneys throughout London. The dangers involved, not to mention the squalid living conditions and the potential for life-shortening respiratory diseases, offended Blake to such an extent that he dedicated two separate poems to explaining the children's plight. Blake intended that this romanticized profession be understood for what it was, the selfish exploitation of children for the good of the urban machine.
For Mercy has a human heart Pity, a human face: And Love, the human form divine, And Peace, the human dress.
Blake takes time in Songs of Innocence to explore the nature of virtue. Mercy, pity, love, and peace are excellent ideals, but they are nothing without human beings to perform them. Blake here argues against making such virtue abstract, and instead urges his readers to see that virtue is a practice of human beings in which they reflect the image of their Creator.
'Twas on a Holy Thursday their innocent faces clean The children walking tow & two in red & blue & green Grey headed beadles walk'd before with wands as white as snow Till into the high dome of Paul's they like Thames waters flow.
Blake describes the children marching "two & two," evoking both the Sunday school image of Noah's Ark, in which the animals are led into the safety of the Ark, and the image of a military parade, in which the "Grey headed beadles" make sure the children keep formation. This description with its bright colors of red, blue, and green stands in ironic contrast to the abject poverty of the children, and to the hypocrisy evident in their being made a spectacle in order to assuage the guilt of their wealthy benefactors as they are forced to show devotion to God.
O! he gives to us his joy, That our grief he may destroy Till our grief is fled & gone He doth sit by us and moan
The "he" of this poem is God, who shares his joy with humanity to help it endure its sorrow in this world. However, as he shares his joy, he also takes upon himself humanity's grief; hence, he sits by mankind and moans along with it as it suffers, and will do so until man's suffering comes to an end.
Hear the voice of the Bard! Who Present, Past, & Future sees Whose ears have heard, The Holy Word, That walk'd among the ancient trees.
Similar to a classical evocation of the Muse, this introductory poem to Songs of Experience demands that the reader listen to the poet. This poet is also a prophet, who is able to see present, past and future. Underlining his divine authority are the next two lines, in which the Bard is said to "have heard" the Holy Word as he walked among "the ancient trees," a reference to the Garden of Eden. Although he can see all time, he has only heard the Word of God in the past. One can infer that he no longer hears the voice of God in the present, nor will he in the future.
Is this a holy thing to see, In a rich and fruitful land, Babes reduced to misery, Fed with cold and usurous hand?
In this poem from Songs of Experience, Blake draws attention to the contradiction between poor children and a rich society. He asks how children can be allowed to starve and suffer in a country as prosperous as England. He further demands to know how the Ascension Day ritual of parading the poor children through St. Paul's Cathedral on Holy Thursday is in any way pleasing to God. His questions are sharp and require that the reader acknowledge the hypocrisy of the situation.
And because I am happy, & dance & sing, They think they have done me no injury: And are gone to praise God & his Priest & King Who make up a heaven of our misery.
As with most of the Songs of Experience versions of his poems, Blake directly criticizes the religious and social systems that would build upon a foundation of suffering children. The little boy keeps a brave face on his plight for the sake of his parents, so that they will not understand the horror of his praising a God, priest, and king who have so enslaved their own child.
Tyger Tyger burning bright, In the forests of the night: What immortal hand or eye, Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
The complementary poem to "The Lamb" from Songs of Innocence, this poem instead seeks to infer the qualities of God from one of his more dangerous creations. The speaker again asks questions in a form of catechism born from nature, but this time the gentleness of the lamb is replaced by the ferocity of the predatory tiger. The speaker asks what power would dare to create or control the tiger, and the answer is that God is in some ways more dangerous and frightening than the vicious creature he has created.
I wander tho' each charter'd street, Near where the charter'd Thames does flow And mark in every face I meet Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
Blake's dissatisfaction with the urban blight of large cities, and particularly of London, is made obvious in this poem. Both the streets and the river are "charter'd" or planned out; every means of travel is controlled and directed by some master planners. However, although there is structure here, there is no hope. Everyone the speaker meets shows evidence of weakness and sorrow on his face, and the city is in fact a trap for the souls of men.
Songs of Innocence and of Experience Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Songs of Innocence and of Experience is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
“The Chimney Sweeper” (1789) describes the terrible living conditions of young children working as chimney sweepers in Britain during the French Revolution. This eerie poem is narrated by a young chimney sweeper and illustrates that he and his...
The rose symbolizes earthly, as opposed to spiritual, love, which becomes ill when infected with the materialism of the world. The rose’s bed of “crimson joy” may also be a sexual image, with the admittedly phallic worm representing either lust or...
Songs of Innocence and of Experience essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of the poems in Songs of Innocence and of Experience by William Blake.