Dover Book

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    In Blake's time, this work was published as one book along with Songs of Innocence in 1794, an addition to the latter which had been published alone in 1789. Songs of Experience, which was the second part of the collection was not published separately in Blake's time. Dover first published it as a separate volume in 1984. The two volumes were meant to complement each other, as Milton's "Paradise" and "Fall." Wikipedia calls "Innocence" and "Experience" definitions of consciousness. Blake did not believe that children were born in "original sin," and therefore were innocent until they experienced the evils of the world. The University of Adelaide in Australia, by the way, has this single volume available as a free eBook, complete with artwork.
    Therefore, these poems cover many of the same subjects as Songs of Innocence, but from a different perspective, a reflections of darkness, "sin" and evil, where suffering and despair take the place of loving care. Wikipedia further states:

Blake's [definition] categorizes our modes of perception that tend to coordinate with a chronology that would become standard in Romanticism: childhood is a state of protected innocence rather than original sin, but not immune to the fallen world and its institutions. This world sometimes impinges on childhood itself, and in any event becomes known through "experience", a state of being marked by the loss of childhood vitality, by fear and inhibition, by social and political corruption, and by the manifold oppression of Church, State, and the ruling classes. The volume's "Contrary States" are sometimes signalled by patently repeated or contrasted titles: in Innocence, Infant Joy, in Experience, Infant Sorrow; in Innocence, The Lamb, in Experience, The Fly and The Tyger.

    I have included much more about Blake and his poetry and art and art methods, especially these "illuminated" works on his Index Page and the Songs of Innocence page, so I will use the rest of this review to present some examples of poetry and art. Again, these are very tiny volumes, both in physical dimensions and page numbers. Songs of Experience consists of 26 illuminated poems, with each poem reprinted in standard print because many of the facsimiles are difficult to impossible to read, in a total of 42 pages.
    The comparison of Infant Joy and Infant Sorrow, mentioned in the quote above, are perfect examples of the stark contrast between the two collections. I will present them both.

Infant Joy (from Songs of Innocence)

"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!

Infant Sorrow (from Songs of Experience)

My mother groaned! my father wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt:
Helpless, naked, piping loud;
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.

Struggling in my father's hands:
Striving against my swadling bands:
Bound and weary I thought best
To sulk upon my mothers breast.

    Here is a rather acerbic opinion toward organized religion which Blake held.

The Garden of Love

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not. writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.

    Another poem called A Poison Tree is even darker. It speaks of one who has forgiven a friend, but not a foe, who nurtured his anger until it grew into a poison apple tree. It produced an apple, and the speaker is glad when he finds that his foe has eaten it an died under the tree. Holy Thursday is another poem, or rather two different ones by the same name, with starkly different perceptions of reality. In Songs of Innocence, the poem speaks of a multitude of radiant children entering St. Paul's Cathedral, where in Songs of Experience, the tone is suffering and poverty.

Holy Thursday

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.

    With all of these are poems, one must ponder over a long period of time to allow the depth of their meaning to grow. Blake was certainly unique. In his time he was considered mad. Now he is considered a pioneer for his era. I will leave you with a couple artworks from this collection, the first The Sick Rose and the second, London.


The Sick Rose

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