Tag Archives: songs of innocence

“A Little Girl Lost” by William Blake

ALittleGirlLost

Children of the future Age,
Reading this indignant page;
Know that in a former time
Love! sweet Love! was thought a crime.

In the Age of Gold,
Free from winters cold:
Youth and maiden bright,
To the holy light,
Naked in the sunny beams delight.

Once a youthful pair
Fill’d with softest care:
Met in garden bright,
Where the holy light,
Had just removed the curtains of the night.

Then, in rising day,
On the grass they play:
Parents were afar:
Strangers came not near:
And the maiden soon forgot her fear.

Tired with kisses sweet
They agree to meet,
When the silent sleep
Waves o’er heavens deep;
And the weary tired wanderers weep.

To her father white
Came the maiden bright:
But his loving look,
Like the holy book,
All her tender limbs with terror shook.

Ona! pale and weak!
To thy father speak:
O the trembling fear!
O the dismal care!
That shakes the blossoms of my hoary hair

I found this poem interesting and somewhat different from most of the poems in the Songs of Innocence and Experience. Blake starts the poem with an introductory stanza where he addresses the poem to the readers of “the future Age.” None of the other poems are addressed in this manner, even though, in “The Little Girl Lost” (a poem similar in title), Blake begins by stating that he has a vision of the future. So there is that parallel between the two poems.

In this poem, Blake presents sexual love as something natural and beautiful between two young people. When the maiden returns home, flush with the glow of love, her father is immediately angered. His thoughts and emotions are controlled by the “holy book,” implying that religious dogma is what dictates his actions more so than compassion and understanding for what his daughter is experiencing.

I referred to the endnotes in my copy of the book to find out more about the maiden’s name—Ona. Geoffrey Keynes, the commentator on my version of the text, asserts that the name is “perhaps the feminine form of One” and may be a “poetic conception of the feminine principle.” I kind of like this interpretation. I view the divine as a dyad, containing masculine and feminine aspects. I would like to think that Blake also recognized the divine feminine as part of the One.

As I read this today, I couldn’t help thinking about the controversy regarding marriage equality and gay rights. I suspect that the “Children of the future Age” will also look back at this time in history and wonder how laws could be considered that deny a person’s right to love another.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my thoughts. Cheers!

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“The Angel” by William Blake

TheAngel_Blake

I dreamt a dream! What can it mean?
And that I was a maiden Queen
Guarded by an Angel mild:
Witless woe was ne’er beguiled!

And I wept both night and day,
And he wiped my tears away;
And I wept both day and night,
And hid from him my heart’s delight.

So he took his wings, and fled;
Then the morn blushed rosy red.
I dried my tears, and armed my fears
With ten thousand shields and spears.

Soon my Angel came again;
I was armed, he came in vain;
For the time of youth was fled,
And grey hairs were on my head.

This is a very complicated poem, although it seems simple on the surface. Upon first reading, I interpreted the poem as an allegory about a young woman who is filled with fear as a child. As a result, the angel who watched over her left and in adulthood, the woman turns to anger and cynicism as a defense. When the angel returns, the woman is old and nearing death, and although she had armed herself against her fears, there was one fear which she could never protect herself from—the fear of dying. While this is a valid interpretation of the poem, I see other symbolism hidden deeper in the text.

The poem describes a dream in which the dreamer envisions himself as the Queen. I see the Queen as symbolic of the unconscious mind, or the Jungian anima. As the dreamer taps into his unconscious mind, he must confront his deepest fears. It almost seems that there is an internal war between his two consciousnesses.

The Queen also appears to be a reference to the triple goddess. She is presented in the three aspects: Maiden, Mother, and Crone. As the Maiden, she weeps from childhood fear. As Mother, we see that the “morn blushed rosy red,” implying that she has reached the stage of maturity when she is menstruating and ready to bear children. Finally, as Crone, her youth has passed and the grey hairs of wisdom now crown her.

The poems in Songs of Innocence and Experience are all more complex than they appear at first. That is the magnificence of these poems. If you notice symbolism that I missed, please share in the comment space. Thanks for visiting!

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“Nurse’s Song” by William Blake (from Songs of Experience)

NursesSong_soe

When the voices of children are heard on the green
And whisprings are in the dale,
The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind,
My face turns green and pale.  

Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,
And the dews of night arise;
Your spring and your day are wasted in play,
And your winter and night in disguise.

This poem corresponds to the poem of the same name from the Songs of Innocence (click here to read about that poem). As with the other poem, this one also is set at a transitional period between day to night, symbolizing the transition from childhood to adulthood. But we also see a transition out of spring and accompanying that the idea of winter coming. This symbolic transition conjures a sense of impending death, that the first stages of the cycle has come to a close and the cycles of maturity and death are beginning.

The nurse, who is the voice in this poem, is clearly troubled as she watches over the children. Their play evokes memories of her past which cause her deep anguish.

The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind,
My face turns green and pale.

I would assert that the nurse gave up her virginity out of wedlock and as a result, suffered for doing so. Possibly, she bore a child herself and had to give the child away to an orphanage or some such institution. As she watches the children and listens to them, she recalls her own innocence and how it led her to make a mistake that carried long-lasting consequences. She knows innately that at least some of the children she cares for will ultimately make the same mistakes she made.

As with so many of Blake’s poems from the Songs of Innocence and Experience, this poem is short but visceral. I know for me, I spent a lot of time looking back at my youth and punishing myself for choices I made, just as the nurse does. Thankfully, I reached a place of acceptance and even gratitude. If it were not for my mistakes, I would never have learned the lessons that brought me to the place I am today, which is a good place.

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“Holy Thursday” by William Blake: From Songs of Experience

HolyThur-SOE

Blake wrote two versions of “Holy Thursday,” one for the Songs of Innocence and this one for the Songs of Experience. (Click here to read my thoughts on “Holy Thursday” from the Songs of Innocence.) Both poems deal with the issue of poverty and how it affects children, and while both provide social criticism, they do so from very different perspectives.

Is this a holy thing to see,
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reducd to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine.
And their fields are bleak & bare.
And their ways are fill’d with thorns
It is eternal winter there.

For where-e’er the sun does shine,
And where-e’er the rain does fall:
Babe can never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.

In Catholic tradition, Holy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter when Jesus held the last supper. Since the last supper was Jesus’ observance of the Passover Seder, which recounts the Hebrews’ release from the bondage of slavery, there is a dark irony here as Blake incorporates imagery of hunger and subjugation. The church, an institution that is supposed to carry on the traditions and teachings of Christ, instead grudgingly offers meager charity to the poor and starving children with “cold and usurious hand,” all the while viewing themselves as holy and charitable.

For me, the stark difference between this poem and the one from Songs of Innocence is the tone. This is an angry poem, seething with indignation. The poet’s view, no longer tainted by innocence, only sees the bare suffering that poverty inflicts upon poor children. He questions why in a land of abundance we allow those who are less fortunate to suffer, and I personally feel that this question is relevant today. How can we, as a society, tolerate children going without food when we have the resources to alleviate their suffering? It is a question we need to ask ourselves, because there are a lot of children who go to sleep hungry every night.

Blake states strongly: “It is a land of poverty!” This is a powerful statement. It is not material or economic wealth that makes a society prosperous; It is how a society cares for its people that determines whether that society is prosperous or not. A society, just like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link, and allowing poverty to exist only weakens the social fabric.

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“On Anothers Sorrow” by William Blake

OnAnothersSorrow

This is the last poem in the Songs of Innocence. It is fairly long, so rather than include the text within the post, I’ll just provide a link to the online version for those who need.

On Anothers Sorrow: www.bartleby.com

I can sum this poem up with one word: empathy. And I think that it is important to note that this is a transitional poem, marking the shift from innocence to experience. For most people, that shift occurs when we become aware of the suffering of others and feel empathy for the first time. As innocent children, we are the center of our own universes. It is difficult, if not impossible, to free ourselves from our self-encapsulated egos and consider the inner turmoil of others. Once we do, we experience spiritual growth. It is an important moment in a person’s spiritual and psychological development and marks the transition into the world of adulthood.

At the end of the poem, Blake establishes a correlation between human empathy and divine empathy. If we as humans can share the suffering of others and support them in their times of anguish, then it stands to reason that God will be there for us in our times of need.

Think not, thou canst sigh a sigh,
And they maker is not by.
Think not, thou canst weep a tear,
And they maker is not near.

O! he gives to us his joy,
That our grief he may destroy
Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

I would like to take this idea a little bit further. Personally, I feel that the ability to connect with another person, to share a person’s suffering, to feel empathy and compassion, and to unconditionally help that person is the most divine act that we as human beings are capable of. All the great spiritual teachers emphasize compassion and unconditional love as the key to spiritual growth. I feel that Blake is reinforcing that idea with this poem by stressing the importance of empathy for another person’s sorrow and by relating that feeling of empathy to God.

I confess, even though I had read these poems before, some numerous times, reading them again slowly and contemplating each one has given me a deeper insight into myself. I look forward to exploring the Songs of Experience now, as I am sure they will force me to take an even deeper look into myself and the world around me.

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“A Dream” by William Blake

ADream

This is the second-to-last poem in the Songs of Innocence, and for me it was the most complex and challenging so far.

Once a dream did weave a shade
O’er my angel-guarded bed,
That an emmet lost its way
Where on grass methought I lay.

Troubled, wildered, and forlorn,
Dark, benighted, travel-worn,
Over many a tangle spray,
All heart-broke, I heard her say:

Oh my children! do they cry,
Do they hear their father sigh?
Now they look abroad to see,
Now return and weep for me.

Pitying, I dropped a tear:
But I saw a glow-worm near,
Who replied, What wailing wight
Calls the watchman of the night?

I am set to light the ground,
While the beetle goes his round:
Follow now the beetle’s hum;
Little wanderer, hie thee home!

The first problem I had in figuring this poem out was the language. Blake incorporates Old and Middle English terms which I had to look up. Emmet is an Old English term for an ant, and wight is a Middle English word for a creature, particularly a human being, that is generally considered to be unfortunate. Once I understood these terms, it was easier for me to figure out the rest of the metaphors and symbolism.

So in the first stanza, we see an emmet (or ant) that has lost its way. It seems fairly clear that this represents a person lost on the spiritual path. As the poem continues, we see a father weeping. This is likely a reference to God mourning his children who have gone astray. Again, the metaphors are fairly straight-forward. But in the fourth stanza, things get a little strange.

Here we are introduced to a glow worm, a watchman of the night, who lights the way for those who crawl upon the earth. It seems to me that the glow worm is symbolic of Lucifer as the Light Bringer, embodied as the serpent, who seeks to bestow enlightenment upon the unfortunate humans. Now, it’s possible that Blake was evoking an image of Christ in the symbol of a serpent. Either way, the serpent is a figure of light and clearly intends to serve as a guide for humanity.

Source: ouroborosponderosa.wordpress.com

Source: ouroborosponderosa.wordpress.com

Lastly, there is a beetle. The ant is instructed to follow the beetle’s hum. The image that comes to mind as I contemplate this is a scarab. In Egyptian mythology, the scarab is depicted as moving the Sun across the sky. It appears that Blake is tying in the ancient Egyptian symbol of guiding illumination and connecting it with the archetype of the serpent as the symbol of wisdom.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

In the last line, the wandering ant is urged to hurry home. I can only assume that this means that humans need to seek a return to the Edenic state, where we are once again connected with the Divine. There is a sense of urgency here, like time is running out, and we need to reestablish our connection with the divine source now or else we will become lost forever.

It is possible that I am reading too much into this poem, but I would like to think that is not the case. Blake’s poems appear deceptively simple, yet are profoundly mystical beneath the surface. I believe this is one of those poems that contains much more that what initially meets the eye.

Of course, your thoughts and interpretations are encouraged. Thanks for reading!

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“Infant Joy” by William Blake

InfantJoy

I have no name;
I am but two days old.
What shall I call thee?
I happy am,
Joy is my name.
Sweet joy befall thee!

Pretty joy!
Sweet joy, but two days old.
Sweet Joy I call thee:
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while;
Sweet joy befall thee.

This is a very simple and loving poem, and there is really not a whole lot that needs to be said about it. It is an expression of a mother’s joy as she beholds her newborn infant. There is one bit of symbolism that is worth pointing out, though, and that has to do with Blake’s illustration.

In the illustration, the mother and child are resting within the blossom of a flower as an angel attends them. I see the blossoming flower as the loss of virginity, so it appears to me that the young woman was blessed with a child upon offering up her virginity. It is also possible that the infant is the baby Jesus. One could certainly interpret the symbolic combination of flower, mother, infant, and angel to be representative of the Immaculate Conception.

There isn’t anything else I have to say about this poem, but if you have other thoughts or interpretations, please feel free to share them.

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