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Literature / Songs of Innocence and of Experience

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Songs of Innocence and of Experience, or to give the full title, Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul, is a book by the English artist and Romantic poet William Blake. It consists of two collections of poems, originally published in separate volumes. Notably, no two printings are alike, because Blake was his own engraver and printer and he hand-coloured each copy. Inexpensive facsimile editions are readily available, and are by far the best way to encounter the book.

The first of the two, Songs of Innocence, is a cheerful and optimistic volume which concerns itself with such themes as springtime, children's games, the freedom of the human spirit, and a kind and loving God. By contrast, Songs of Experience is considerably bleaker and more cynical, concerning itself with human frailty and cruelty, and containing harsh criticisms of the repressive and authoritarian culture of its day.

No relation to the U2 albums titled Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.

This book provides examples of:

  • "Anger Is Healthy" Aesop: "The Poison Tree" contains this moral and focuses on how containing one's anger leads to more terrible consequences down the line via the image of the Tree of Knowledge.
    I was angry with my friend.
    I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
    I was angry with my foe.
    I told it not, my wrath did grow.
  • Animal Motifs: sheep and birds in Songs of Innocence, lions and tigers in Songs Of Experience. The narrator also compares himself directly to an insect in "THE FLY".
  • Children Are Innocent: in Songs of Innocence; Subverted in Songs of Exprerience.
  • Darker and Edgier: Many of the poems in Songs of Experience provide an alternative, more cynical perspective on themes discussed in Songs of Innocence.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The eponymous Tyger of "The Tyger" is described as one. Apparently, the stars themselves are aghast at its creation, and the narrator is horrified at the implication that the creator of the Lamb could possibly make such a dread beast.
    • Another interpretation, though, is that the Tyger is simply one of Lucifer's many guises (representing chaos and revolutionary spirit rather than evil), with the lines about "The stars [throwing] down their spears" and weeping put in as an allusion to Lucifer's angels (sometimes represented as stars) being defeated in the rebellion against God.
  • Forbidden Fruit:
    • The apples in "A POISON TREE".
    • There's a more complicated version in "The Human Abstract," where we're being deceptively encouraged to eat the fruit.
  • Innocent Means Na├»ve: Several poems discuss and play with this trope, particularly "A Little Boy Lost", where a young child inadvertently questions church dogma and is branded a heretic by an overzealous priest.
  • Mind Screw: the narrative of "The Little Girl Lost" and "The Little Girl Found".
  • My Local: the alehouse in "The Little Vagabond".
  • Revenge: "A POISON TREE".
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: runs the whole spectrum, with Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience loosely corresponding to Idealism and Cynicism respectively.
  • Unreliable Illustrator: Especially in Songs of Experience, where there can be a real mismatch between the illustrations and the poems' tone.

Alternative Title(s): Songs Of Innocence And Experience, Songs Of Innocence, Songs Of Experience