Book Review: Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake


Tasnia Shahrin


What might seem to be some pretty illustrations alongside a few soothing poems to modern eyes, was a revolutionary book back in the 18th century that vouched for the simplicity of the common man and nature. Through the voice of a Piper and a Bard, Songs of Innocence and Experience narrates the binaries of human life — the good and the evil. For a generation that crumbles toward depression while being torn apart by these two human extremes, this book illustrates the ultimate truth, that is, it is essential to acknowledge the vice as well as celebrate the virtue.

 

While the innocence part is a collection of 19 poems, engraved with artwork, the experience part holds 26 poems. It is because the former part shows happy, innocent perception in pastoral harmony, but at times, such as in The Chimney Sweeper and The Little Black Boy, it subtly shows the dangers of this naïve and vulnerable state. However, the latter part is an attempt to denounce the brutal society that harms the human soul in such terrible ways. But it also urges the readers to go back to innocence, through imagination, in an effort to redeem a fallen world.

 

The most unique part of this book is undoubtedly the mesmerising illustrations that add to the symbolic layers of the poems. These drawings show us that the poetic and pictorial narratives are not the same. The two different styles help us create a unified reading that bridges the gulf between the verbal and the visual. Like the text, which includes different types of voice, the illustrations address both text and audience in different ways.

 

Some noteworthy poems of this book are The Lamb, The Tyger, The Human Abstract, The Divine Image, etc. As The Lamb is a counterpart to The Tyger; The Human Abstract completely contradicts the idea of The Divine Image. Thus, by making these poems contradictory to each other, Blake successfully shows the inner conflict of the human conscience, to which everyone can relate. As a result, this book is more than some visuals and a little rhythm. This book provides a solution to attaining peace through the hindsight of poetry. The solution is not to stress too much about the necessity of virtue, but to accept that evil helps us grow as well. As happiness has no charm without a hint of sadness, similarly Blake’s book unites the binary by showing that evil is only evil because we shame it instead of giving it its due recognition.

   

Contemporary poetry lovers will find this book really interesting because of the layers of art combined here and also for the easy to understand language. For readers who often find the vocabulary used in classical literature too difficult, this book can be considered an easy start to a journey that will help you know what made books such as Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake classics.

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