Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Songs of Innocence and of Experience Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How do Blake's views of God presented in Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience differ from and complement one another?

    In Songs of Innocence, Blake leans toward the traditional view of God as benevolent father over a glorious creation. However, even in these "Innocent" poems, Blake hints at a flawed world that has remade God in its own image, and for its own ends. In Songs of Experience, Blake's critiques become more direct as he questions the goodness of God and his place in a world filled with crime, violence, and exploitation. In both books, Blake wishes to point the reader to a view of God that goes beyond mere human understanding and the popular conceptions of him as aloof and impersonal.

  2. 2

    What is the place of nature in the works of William Blake?

    Nature is the near-perfect state of the world and the closest human beings may get to the sinless state of innocence of the Garden of Eden. From the natural world, one may learn the attributes of God, both through the gentle lamb and the ferocious tiger, and find the freedom all human souls long for. In opposition to nature is the urban society of such population centers as London, where human life is bought and sold, and restrictions are placed upon the natural desires of humanity.

  3. 3

    How did the plight of children in urban London affect Blake?

    Blake seems to have been particularly concerned about the exploitation of children by the culture of his time. He dedicated two separate poems to the dangerous profession of chimney sweeping, which encouraged parents to sell their small children into an often-fatal service. He opposed the exploitation of impoverished children by their would-be benefactors in two poems about the Holy Thursday spectacle, and he regularly refers to lost boys and girls who have been abandoned by their parents and driven into wandering by a harsh world system.

    In all these cases, Blake either implies or states that the solution to the problem is to reform the social system that holds the lives of children so cheap.

  4. 4

    What view of urban living does Blake present in Songs of Innocence and of Experience?

    Blake deals primarily with nature and rural settings in Songs of Innocence, implying by omission the superiority of the rural to the urban. In Songs of Experience, Blake includes the highly critical "London," which describes both streets and the river as "charter'd" or controlled by urban planning, yet despite this planned environment, there still exists violence, sorrow (particularly that of infants), and vice. The urban blight of London typifies everything Blake considered evil about human-created culture and societal mores.

  5. 5

    What is Blake's concept of "free love"?

    While never unfaithful to his wife Catherine Boucher, Blake often writes on the topic of "free love" in his works. In Songs of Innocence and of Experience, the concept is mostly hinted at, although the Earth offers free love as the key to unshackling her from captivity in "Earth's Answer." Blake's free love is more a rejection of religious and civil authority of the time, and he is quite clear in his disdain for both in such poems as "Holy Thursay" and "The Little Vagabond." Marriage as an institution, to Blake's mind, was yet another repression of the natural instincts forced upon mankind by those who would abuse their authority for their own ends.

  6. 6

    How is the issue of race dealt with in Blake's "The Little Black Boy"?

    Blake chooses the speaker of "The Little Black Boy" carefully. He is a child, and so can innocently ask the questions he has without seeming either mean-spirited or blasphemous. He wants to know why his skin is so dark, even though his soul is as white as that of the English boy. His mother seeks to explain this dichotomy to him: his dark skin was given to him by God to help him better endure the sun, which is the physical manifestation of God's love in this world. One day, says his mother, the "cloud" that is the skin or physical form will be removed when everyone enters into God's paradise. There all souls will be pure and white together, having learned how to endure God's powerful love on earth. The boy then takes this further, hinting that since God gave him a particularly difficult means of getting used to the sun (black skin), that he will in fact be the stronger of the two boys in paradise, or heaven.

  7. 7

    What is significant about the child's self-naming in "Infant Joy"?

    The two-day old baby in "Infant Joy" is able to name herself because she in her innocence understands what most have lost through experience: happiness and a state of bliss or perfection are self-created modes of being and independent of external forces. The infant is in a natural state of grace and has not yet become corrupted by the world; given the chance, she names herself, thus denying anyone or anything else the power to determine her true nature.

  8. 8

    In "Earth's Answer," what prevents the Earth from returning to her pristine state?

    The Earth replies to the Bard's summons in the "Introduction" to Songs of Experience by pointing out that she has been imprisoned by the "jealous maker of man" in this world. She is held down by cold chains and kept from enjoying the fecundity and brightness of springtime. Free love is the key that will unlock her manacles, and only when people can express themselves in keeping with their natural instincts rather than being made slaves to superimposed systems of behavior and morality will the Earth return to her pristine state.

  9. 9

    Why do the Clod and the Pebble have such different views of love in "The Clod and the Pebble"?

    The clod speaks of unselfish love, which looks out for the good of the beloved over itself. The pebble states that love is selfish and seeks its own pleasure first. The central stanza between the two views explains the natures of the clod and the pebble: the clod is malleable, and therefore more adaptable to change, but it is also more easily "trampled upon" by others; the pebble resides in a brook, where the constant flow of water has smoothed its rough edges and made it hard. The pebble cannot change its ways, lest it break, but it is also less fickle than the clod may be. The poem suggests that both views of love are accurate, and each can be taken to an unhealthy extreme if not balanced one with the other.

  10. 10

    How does the view of the nurse change from the "Nurse's Song" in Songs of Innocence to the "Nurse's Song" in Songs of Experience?

    In Songs of Innocence, the Nurse expresses her desire to care for the children who have been playing all day by getting them home before sunset. When the children ask to play as long as there is light, she indulges them and turns her mind back to her own pleasurable childhood with joy in her heart. In Songs of Experience, the Nurse is instead inspired to dread by the children, probably adolescents, who have gone off to "play" and are whispering as they are further away. She returns to memories of her own youth, but in this case she is sickened by memories of mistakes made and sorrows gained; she urges the children to return home quickly and not indulge their curiosities, lest they too make the same mistakes.