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Songs of Experience Collection

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English Literature

Songs of Experience (1794) is a collection of poetry by the Romantic poet William Blake. Blake's social surroundings had a significant impact on his work, which is traceable in the themes and symbols of the poems in Songs of Experience. Let's explore Blake's renowned poetry collection and how it came to be.

Songs of Experience: introduction and summary

Usually, the collection Songs of Experience is examined alongside the collection Songs of Innocence (1789) by William Blake, since the two contain contrasting ideas. These ideas present William Blake as an unbiased observer of the social, political, religious, and economical changes happening around him, thus allowing him to offer critical commentary.

Songs of Experience touch upon the loss of innocence experienced as one becomes worldly-wise. At the time of composition, England was undergoing a drastic change. People were migrating to cities in search of employment and a better life, particularly because of the Industrial Revolution.

Blake understood the increasing momentum of industries as a means to enslave the population, and expressed his dislike for authoritarian institutions, including the Church of England. He denounced any form of organised religion while conforming to Christian beliefs. The skepticism he felt due to growing industry and urbanisation is expressed in poems of this collection.

Overall, in Songs of Experience, William Blake asserts that adulthood tends to corrupt the innocence and naivete that one possesses in childhood. This 'corruption' manifests itself in the darker aspects of human nature such as envy, possessiveness, shame, and cruelty.

The social and religious authorities at the time seemingly contribute to the darkness brought on by experiencing the adult world. William Blake uses simple diction while elevating his poems with rich poetic devices to keep them accessible, since he believed that poetry could be enjoyed by everyone.

While William Blake is largely treated as a Romantic poet, the poems from this collection may be seen as anything but. The movement of Romanticism was a reaction against neoclassicism. Romantics rejected the rigidity and structure imposed by classical culture, instead emphasising individuality, harmony with nature, and expression of emotions. The poems in this collection are characterised by rather dark themes and thus cannot be identified as 'peaceful' or 'harmonious' as other Romantic texts.

Romanticism was a literary movement that peaked in England in the eighteenth century. Romantics prized individualism and connection with nature as well as the expression of profound emotion. Romantic poets include William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, and John Keats.

Neoclassicism was a cultural movement that peaked in the mid-to-late eighteenth century. Neoclassicism prized the movement of classicism, particularly Greek and Roman classicism, and was greatly inspired by it.

The question one may then pose is: how does one contextualise Songs of Experience?

Songs of Experience contains poems that indicate the various influences on the poet, William Blake. For example, William Blake lived most of his life in London. As he observed the change that came over his beloved city because of the growing industry and migration of people from the countryside to London, he became critical of figures in power that did not seem to ease the problems of the population

The city was rife with crime and destitution, and owners of factories, mills, and other industries exploited labourers, as did the Church, by imposing strict restrictions on the people. William Blake addresses all of these aspects in his poem 'London,' which is published in this collection.

Songs of Experience: poems

'The Chimney Sweeper'

The poem The Chimney Sweeper (1789) is seen as part of both collections - Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience (1794) as it was published in two parts, with each collection carrying one part.

While the part of this poem published in Songs of Innocence observes boys being delivered from their coffins to sunny meadows representing heaven, the part contained in Songs of Experience reflects the erroneous perspective of the chimney-sweeping child.

The Church has led the child to believe that to get to heaven, they must suffer in life. In the meantime, the child has no comfort from its parents or any adults, thus signifying the brainwashing that adults experience from authoritative institutions such as the Church.

'The Tyger'

This is regarded as the most popular poem by William Blake. The speaker of the poem expresses amazement at the form of the tiger, which is identified as a fearsome and magnificent creature. Using metaphors tied with the occupation of the blacksmith, the speaker then questions the might and the intent of the creator of the tiger.

The speaker finally asks whether the Being that created the tiger also created a creature as meek and gentle as the lamb. This is an interesting contrast, especially when considering the poem 'The Lamb' from Songs of Innocence, which serves as the counterpart to this one.

'The Garden of Love'

The poem 'The Garden of Love' demonstrates a more nostalgic tone touched with melancholy and resignation. In the text, the speaker revisits a place they have previously frequented and remarks on the drastic changes in this 'garden'.

The garden is now a darker place, with graves all over and ominous-looking priests robed in black walking its grounds. The poem touches upon themes of freedom versus restrictions and the loss of joy and sense of community.

'London'

The poem 'London' illustrates the urbanisation of the city brought on by the Industrial Revolution. Taking on an observatory yet critical tone, the speaker walks the streets of London noting the misery on the people's faces. The poem has dark undertones, which manifest in the themes of death, decay, and labour.

Other poems

Other poems of Songs of Experience include the following:

  1. Introduction
  2. Earth's Answer
  3. The Clod and the Pebble
  4. Holy Thursday
  5. The Little Girl Lost
  6. The Little Girl Found
  7. Nurse's Song
  8. The Sick Rose
  9. The Fly
  10. The Angel
  11. My Pretty Rose Tree
  12. Ah! Sun-flower
  13. The Lilly
  14. The Little Vagabond
  15. The Human Abstract
  16. Infant Sorrow
  17. A Poison Tree
  18. A Little Boy Lost
  19. A Little Girl Lost
  20. To Tirzah
  21. The School Boy
  22. The Voice of the Ancient Bard

Songs of Experience: themes

The poetry collection Songs of Experience explores themes of corruption, misery, and the fear brought on by experiencing the adult world. William Blake was skeptical of the wave of the Industrial Revolution and urbanisation that had seized England, and specifically London at the time. He feared that people were growing increasingly fearful of political and religious authorities.

These authority figures imposed restrictions on the public, and the population's status of poverty and misery was exacerbated by social, political, religious, and economical influences. It is these attributes that William Blake criticises in his poems using various poetic and figurative devices.

An important aspect of William Blake's poems is his use of religious themes and symbols. Born into a family of dissenters, i.e., members of a non-conformist Church, William Blake was a devout Christian but abhorred all forms of organised religion, including the Church of England. Through his poetry, Blake often explores what it means to be a good Christian and the notion of community and unity with his fellow humans.

Songs of Experience in comparison with Songs of Innocence (1789)

Numerous poems in this collection have counterparts in the accompanying poetry collection, Songs of Innocence. Arguably, Songs of Innocence is representative of the time before the 'Original Sin' thereby signifying purity, innocence, and vitality. A 'fall from grace' builds up to the themes of Songs of Experience, which are marked by the cynicism, loss of innocence, and corruption brought on by adulthood.

Therefore, the two collections can be seen as binary opposites, presenting contrasting ideas. By thematically separating the two collections of poems, William Blake distances himself from the subject matter and presents them in an unbiased manner by recognising the merits and demerits of both states. Examples of the pairs of contrasting poems and their respective collections are listed below.

  1. 'The Tyger' (Songs of Experience) - 'The Lamb' (Songs of Innocence)
  2. 'The Little Girl Lost' (Songs of Experience) - 'The Little Boy Lost' (Songs of Innocence)
  3. 'The Little Girl Found' (Songs of Experience) - 'The Little Boy Found' (Songs of Innocence)
  4. 'Infant Sorrow' (Songs of Experience) - 'Infant Joy' (Songs of Innocence).

Songs of Experience Collection - Key takeaways

  • Songs of Experience is a poetry collection by William Blake published in 1794.
  • William Blake's social, political, and religious environment had a crucial impact on the poems in the collection.
  • The counterpart of Songs of Experience is the poetry collection Songs of Innocence (1789).
  • Songs of Experience touch upon themes such as loss of innocence, corruption brought on by adulthood, and restriction imposed by authorities.
  • The poems in the collection often include religious allusions and symbols.
  • Some poems in the collection have a direct counterpart presenting opposing views or ideas in Songs of Innocence.
  • Some of the important poems in the collection include The Tyger, The Chimney Sweeper, The Garden of Love, and London.

Songs of Experience Collection

The poetry collection Songs of Experience by William Blake is about loss of innocence.

The poems in the collection Songs of Experience contain themes of poverty, misery, loss of innocence, corruption of childhood, death, and restrictions imposed by authorities.

The poetry collection Songs of Experience contains 26 poems.

Songs of Experience was published in 1794.

The poems in Songs of Innocence are happy and joyful whereas the poems in Song of Experience are darker and deal with more serious issues. While the poems in Songs of Innocence are about innocence and purity, the poems in Songs of Experience are about the loss of innocence experienced as one becomes worldly-wise.

Final Songs of Experience Collection Quiz

Question

Who composed Songs of Experience?

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Answer

William Blake

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Question

What work was Songs of Experience published alongside with?

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Answer

Songs of Innocence

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Question

When was Songs of Experience published?

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Answer

1794

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Question

Songs of Experience touches upon the loss of ___________

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Answer

innocence

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Question

Songs of Experience expresses Blake's scepticism of the __________ ________

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Answer

Industrial Revolution

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Question

True or False: Adulthood is an important theme in Songs of Experience

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Answer

True

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Question

True or False: William Blake's works belong to the movement of neoclassicism

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Answer

False

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Question

True or False: The poem 'London' belongs to the collection Songs of Experience

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Answer

False

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Question

True or False: The poem 'The Lamb' belongs to the collection Songs of Experience

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Answer

False

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Question

The contrasting poem to 'Infant Joy' is _______

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Answer

'Infant Sorrow'

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