The Poems of William Blake

The Poems of William Blake Summary and Analysis of Hear thy Voice


“Hear thy Voice” (also referred to as “Introduction to Songs of Experience”) is a frontispiece (an introduction) to the second half of “Songs of Innocence and Experience: Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.” The accompanying plate to this poem depicts the same shepherd and winged child from the “Innocence” frontispiece. This time, the shepherd has captured the winged child and wrestled him firmly upon his head, pinning his arms to the earth, restricting his flying.

From the opening line, the reader is aware of the calling out to all people of experience to ‘wake up’ to their current state of oppression. “The bard,” who is arguably intended to be Blake himself, and if not, at least the fictional voice behind all the poems in “Experience,” is a direct contrast to “the piper” in “Innocence.” This time, the speaker (the bard) has heard the voice of the oppressive tyrant father figure who fearfully delivers a “holy word” to bully and govern all of mankind. Line 5 is an allusion to the garden of Eden (“the ancient trees”). Line 6 draws a reference to all the fallen (lapsed) souls, which makes up most of experienced mankind in Blake’s case. The souls have fallen into sin and away from heaven. The creator argues this to be a result of sin but the poet counters, saying it is due to a the creator’s restricted visions of inspiration and spirit and his lack of permission and allowance in a law-governed society.


"Hear thy Voice" is in a sense an invocation to all of humankind to cast off their degenerate condition of suffering and blindness and to begin to self-govern the material universe (“fallen fallen light renew”) instead of remaining its prisoner. On a larger scale, the “fallen soul” is also a reference to the greater state of the “fallen earth.” In this reading, the entire world is in darkness and under tyrannical rule, and not just its people.

In the end, the question of whether or not the “calling” is successful is left unanswered. Do the fallen souls listen to the “voice of the bard” or the “holy word” of the father? Specifically in line 6, it is impossible to say with any certainty which voice is of “might control.”

The overall mood and atmosphere of the poem is of weariness and sadness. The language used (ancient, lapsed, weeping, fallen, worn, slumberous) evokes a wearisome state. From this, the reader can infer that the world of experience is a cold, sad, despairing place bound by strict limits and seemingly lacking the energy to escape.

This poem is often referred to as "Introduction [to Songs of Experience]" as it was the frontispiece to the second of the two collections "Songs of Innocence and Experience: Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul." The accompanying plate to "Introduction" is is of a shepherd (the same one from the frontispiece to "Introduction [to Songs of Innocence]" who has captured the winged child (again, the same one) and set him firmly upon his head, pinning his arm's down and restricting his ability to fly.

The opening line introduces the bard, arguably Blake himself, and if not, at least it is the fictional poet and speaker of the rest of the Songs of Experience. This bard has heard the voice of the oppressive father-tyrant figure ("heard the Holy Word") and is choosing to rebuke it, calling on all listeners to hear his voice over that of God's. The "Holy Word" is only there to oppress and bully humankind. This bard, in contrast to the Piper in Songs of Innocence, is there to "call" all the souls of the new world in hopes the will "arise" and revolt.

Specifically, the "ancient trees"in line 5 is a reference to the trees from the Garden of Eden, man's life before his fall from grace, and the "lapsed souls" in the succeeding line refers to the gathered souls of man after his fall. Here, Blake is arguing with the creator, who blames man's banishment on sin. It is Blake's argument that it wasn't sin at all, but God's own restricted vision of permitted activity on earth and his argument for the necessity of a law-governed society.

Like in so many of Blake's work, we get the metaphor or night and day as representative of innocence and experience. From line 7, with the "evening dew" to the end of the poem, the symbolism revolves around what happens in night versus the opposing daytime. This is all an allusion to Blake's own previous work, specifically "Songs of Innocence," but other poems as well. For example, lines 18-20 can be read as a reference to Los and Enitharmon celebrating all the night long in Blake's "Europe: A Prophecy." However, the night only 'appears' to be endless, and by the time dawn starts to break, Los and Enitharmon recognize there is no real blessing to be had from "the starry floor."

The fallen soul is not just a symbol of mankind, but Earth herself, who is personified here. Line 11 speaks to the cast out world, imploring it to cast off its degenerate condition and begin to govern as does the rest of the material universe instead of remaining prisoner. The language used by the speaker to describe this state of entrapment evokes an atmosphere of weariness and sadness: "ancient," "lapsed," "weeping," "fallen," "worn," and "slumberous." From these adjectives, the reader is meant to infer that the world of experience is a cold, sad, and despairing place bound by strict limits and lacking the energy to escape.

Overall, Blake is posing a question, almost a "choose your side" scenario to the reader, and he intentionally leaves the question unanswered. In the end, the most prominent point of the poem to walk away with is "whose voice are you going to listen to? The poet's voice calling for revolution, or God's voice calling for order?"