• Revision:William Blake: Songs of Innocence and Experience

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Notes for the AQA Pastoral Unit in English Literatire, the page numbers relate to my edition which is the Dover Thrift Edition.


Songs of Innocence: the Lamb pg 24-25

Picture has the symbols of the young uncontrolled saplings, the innocent child and the lamb.

The Lamb symbolises the Biblical image of Jesus being the Lamb of God as well as that of God being the good shepherd. Also of Easter, Spring and new life, of youth, innocence and the fact that the lamb is a white animal, this in itself symbolises innocence. ‘Little’ is simplistic language as if said by a child with whom it makes a parallel. Little brings the thoughts of being small, vulnerable, how big things treat little things.

In the actual ink print Blake doesn’t use question marks; this is because the child speaking is asking rhetorical questions as the child isn’t actually asking the questions just repeating what he already knows.

‘By the stream & o’er the mead;’ shows the pastoral setting as pure and nice.

‘Clothing’ – anthropomorphism as lambs don’t wear clothing; that it is a human thing to do.

The child seems to be away from the structure of the church – a criticism by Blake over the fact that he dislikes the church.

‘Gave thee such a tender voice,’ is also anthropomorphism as animals don’t actually have a real voice and it is followed by ‘making all the vales rejoice?’ which is the same thing as the hills are not actually able to rejoice.

‘Making all the vales rejoice?’ is also about how nature is affected by nature, lambs are making nature happy. The last two lines also sound like Jesus came and spoke his words like the lamb and they made everybody happy.

The repetition of ‘Little lamb, who made thee, dost thou know who made thee?’ makes the poem sound like a nursery rhyme or song and also shows the certainty of the child in the way that they have been taught.

‘Little lamb I’ll tell thee’ the child answers their own question, this shows certainty in what the child has been taught. Use of the word ‘little’ likens the child to the lamb.

‘For he calls himself a lamb.’ Jesus called himself a lamb; therefore the lamb and Jesus are alike.

‘He is meek & mild;’ Makes the line sound like a children’s prayer ‘He became a little child.’ This says that Jesus became a child; therefore linking Jesus and the child.

‘I a child & thou a lamb.’ This forms the link between the child and the lamb. The Child speaks to the lamb as if it is an equal and because Jesus is linked to both of them Jesus is there too creating a radical idea of Blake’s creating a new trinity of lamb, child and Jesus. The fact that they are all equal links into the idyll of the pastoral world.

‘We are called by his name.’ As God is in everyone they are all holy and they all bless each other in the last refrain; ‘Little lamb, God bless thee! Little lamb, God bless thee!’ the repeated refrain also frames the last stanza of the poem which limits the viewpoint and gives it definite idyllic ideas.

Songs of Experience: the Tyger pg 37-38

In the picture there is a thick controlled tree trunk, symbolising the structure and constraints of society. The tiger itself is stumpy and doesn’t look in proportion; this is as the tiger doesn’t actually do anything in the poem. One of Blake’s sayings was ‘the tigers of wrath’ adds to the tyger’s symbolism of power/strength/anger. Also the orange could represent hell or fire. The tyger was out of the ordinary, it was exotic, strange and barely seen in London. ‘Burning bright’ links to the colour of the tyger, like the fire, which could either symbolise light or destruction.

‘In the forest’s of the night,’ the forest is dark, not as clear, a mystery, a time of confusion. Is the tyger the light in the darkness or does it form part of the danger. ‘What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?’ The question, as in the Lamb, is who made you, this time the speaker doesn’t know the answer as that is part of experience, knowing that things are not that straight forward. It also shows confusion and frustration as God will not answer.

Stanza 2 is asking where God got the fire to make the tyger from; this almost makes God seem to be like a blacksmith. The use of the word ‘dare’ suggests that it’s not something that is normally done that God has done something brave that has taken a lot of courage. ‘Fire?’ this underlines the blacksmith image, along with the word ‘seize’. However it could also suggest that the fire could desroy the countryside or it could light it up.

‘Twist the sinews of thy heart?’ This makes it sound as if God has made something sinister, he has warped the animal. In stanza 3 there are a lot of deadened sounds, this makes it sound darker. In stanza 4 there are many references to God as a Blacksmith such as; ‘hammer’ ‘furnace’ and ‘anvil’ this likens God to someone who makes weapons, the tyger as a weapon? It is also a reflection on the industrial revolution which was destroying the countryside at the time.

‘When the stars threw down their spears, and water’d heaven with their tears’ is taken from the book of Job but also from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, this is about the fall of man so could Blake be referencing to the fall of God? Has God out done himself? ‘Did he smile his work to see?’ like in Genesis in the creation story except twisted. See another side of God? A twisted smile that is, in part, evil.

‘Did he who made the lamb make thee?’ almost sounds like disgust at the fact that something so innocent and something so ferocious could be made by the same God – a different side to God. Can God be good and bad?

The repetition of the first stanza as the last makes it seem framed though this time it is framed by ignorance and the same questions them not having been answered in the poem.

The word ‘could’ has been substituted for ‘dare’ which is a harder, harsher word, this puts a darker stress on things, in stanza 1 the words that could have double meanings could be seen by the ‘good’ meaning but in the last stanza you get the feeling that the speaker has made up their mind towards the ‘bad’ meaning.

‘Symmetry?’ shows perfection/beauty though it could also be ordered and controlled, a feature of society that Blake dislikes.

Songs of Innocence: The Shepherd pg 4

Context: William Blake had a troubled relationship with his father, and so a closer relationship with his mother. In many of his poems God fills in for the father in the poem and the relationship with the mother is mentioned.

This poem lacks a contrary, use with the lamb to show the pastoral idyll.

The Shepherd is the biblical symbol for God, the good shepherd who leads his people. In reading the poem like that humankind are the sheep. Shepherds protect, provide, care and lead their sheep.

‘Sweet lot!’ Blake sees the shepherd as having a good life as he admires the simplicity of their life, the freedom they experience while being able to wander around nature and the honest hard work that they do.

‘From the morn’ at the beginning and ‘while they are in peace,’ (i.e. asleep) near the end suggests the simple idea that this poem goes from dawn to dusk.

‘He shall follow his sheep all day,’ seems to be a little bit of role reversal, shows the caring God, his people go where they want to go but he is always there in case they need him.

‘And his tongue shall be filled with praise.’ Meaning that he is singing, the ‘praise’ at the end suggests that he is singing about God as there is nothing else to occupy his mind in the pastoral world.

‘Lambs’ We are all lambs, therefore the children of God that need to be watched over by their father, or shepherd.

‘For he hears the lamb’s innocent call, And he hears the ewe’s tender reply;’ The child calls out and the mother answers and the child’s want is satisfied – the romantic view of childhood, not as it is in the towns. Context: In the towns people would sell their children as they couldn’t afford to feed them.

The use of sheep – sheep are unable to think for themselves, therefore need to be guided. They follow the crowd, though it could be a negative thing – weakness.

‘He is watchful while they are at peace,’ the sheep, or God’s people are watched and protected even when they sleep. Use of the word ‘watchful’ could mean that the shepherd knows that there could be danger about, or like God knowing that experience is just around the corner from innocence.

‘For they know when their shepherd is nigh.’ (near) suggests that you can only be at ease with the knowledge that God certainly exists, as in innocence where no one knows any different. The use of the word ‘when’ could indicate that the shepherd is not always there to watch over and protect his sheep.

Songs of Innocence: Spring pg 23-24

Context: 1800s writers would commonly use odes to spring. There are strict rules to follow for the writing of odes. Blake’s poem ‘Spring’ acts as an ode to spring but does not follow the ‘rules’. It is written in diameter, which is two beats to each line, this in itself is unusual. This could be because Blake wants to break from tradition, to show his dislike for the structure of the church or because he wanted to say that nature can’t be represented artificially. It is using the simple language that they believed shepherd’s to speak in.

‘Spring’ is a season, it is when there is most optimism, new life and hope, though it also represents the passage of time.

‘Sound the Flute!’ This represents the harmony between the person making the music and the nature around them, romantic poets associate music with shepherds.

‘Now it’s mute.’ When the person stops playing the birds, and so nature, replies, harmony between the two.

‘Nightingale’ and ‘Lark’ are both renowned for being singing birds, this is to back up the song from the flute and the unity between them, the whole of nature rejoicing.

‘Little Boy, Full of joy; Little Girl, Sweet and small;’ these 4 lines show the idyllic and romantic view of childhood, where everything is perfect and at peace, there is no corruption.

‘Cock does crow, So do you;’ A cock crows in the morning, saying that people react to the rising sun in the same way that animals do. Or that nature is happy so everyone is happy.

In the 2nd stanza the rhyme isn’t the same, it’s not in rhyming couplets, changes in the middle but ends the same – the life cycle. Or the fact that things start off neat and tidy and then grow to become more free.

‘Merrily, Merrily, to welcome in the Year.’ This is repeated at the end of the first and second stanza and it makes it seem more rhyme-like.

‘Little Lamb,’ capitalisation of the ‘L’ of lamb could be a reference to God as the lamb, and so lamb being a name, but; Context: 18th and 19th century writers were inconsistent with capitals so sometimes capitalised every noun.

‘Here I am;’ shows interaction with the lamb, the equality between the child, the lamb and God. Showing the idyllic perfect world.

‘My white neck;’ suggests purity and innocence. Though the word ‘white’ makes you think of the lamb rather than the child who is speaking. This ties into the idea that the lamb and child are in harmony, are equal.

‘Merrily, Merrily, we welcome in the Year.’ The last line of the first two stanzas is repeated again with one modification, the use of the word ‘we’. It is used because throughout the last stanza there has been interaction between the lamb and the child so now they have a joint perspective and the child speaks of them as ‘we’.

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