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Songs of Innocence and Experience

William Blake

“Holy Thursday”

“The Tyger”

“The Human Abstract”

Is this a holy thing to see,
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced 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.

Summary

The poem begins with a series of questions: how holy is the sight of children living in misery in a prosperous country? Might the children’s “cry,” as they sit assembled in St. Paul’s Cathedral on Holy Thursday, really be a song? “Can it be a song of joy?” The speaker’s own answer is that the destitute existence of so many children impoverishes the country no matter how prosperous it may be in other ways: for these children the sun does not shine, the fields do not bear, all paths are thorny, and it is always winter.

Form

The four quatrains of this poem, which have four beats each and rhyme ABAB, are a variation on the ballad stanza.

Commentary

In the poem “Holy Thursday” from Songs of Innocence, Blake described the public appearance of charity school children in St. Paul’s Cathedral on Ascension Day. In this “experienced” version, however, he critiques rather than praises the charity of the institutions responsible for hapless children. The speaker entertains questions about the children as victims of cruelty and injustice, some of which the earlier poem implied. The rhetorical technique of the poem is to pose a number of suspicious questions that receive indirect, yet quite censoriously toned answers. This is one of the poems in Songs of Innocence and Experience that best show Blake’s incisiveness as a social critic.

In the first stanza, we learn that whatever care these children receive is minimal and grudgingly bestowed. The “cold and usurous hand” that feeds them is motivated more by self-interest than by love and pity. Moreover, this “hand” metonymically represents not just the daily guardians of the orphans, but the city of London as a whole: the entire city has a civic responsibility to these most helpless members of their society, yet it delegates or denies this obligation. Here the children must participate in a public display of joy that poorly reflects their actual circumstances, but serves rather to reinforce the self-righteous complacency of those who are supposed to care for them.

The song that had sounded so majestic in the Songs of Innocence shrivels, here, to a “trembling cry.” In the first poem, the parade of children found natural symbolization in London’s mighty river. Here, however, the children and the natural world conceptually connect via a strikingly different set of images: the failing crops and sunless fields symbolize the wasting of a nation’s resources and the public’s neglect of the future. The thorns, which line their paths, link their suffering to that of Christ. They live in an eternal winter, where they experience neither physical comfort nor the warmth of love. In the last stanza, prosperity is defined in its most rudimentary form: sun and rain and food are enough to sustain life, and social intervention into natural processes, which ought to improve on these basic necessities, in fact reduce people to poverty while others enjoy plenitude.

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The sick rose

by slowpulsegirl, September 11, 2012

By "rose" W.Blake could also mean his heart,and the worm could be some thoughts he has regarding a lover that is a temptation for him.His love for this person is secret,and he has thoughts about her when he is alone in his bed at night.The fact that from what we see this love is single sided slowly kills the speaker's heart and life.

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notation

by naddoushe, February 09, 2013

hi,please can someone help me how to find te figure of speech in the peom amd its metaphores?

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2 out of 6 people found this helpful

Blake

by grmurray, June 13, 2013

An important feature to note reading any poem within Songs of Innocence and Experience is that it allows the marginalized figures of society a voice. A voice in which their story can be told. Innocence would seem to the be the more controlled,ignorant perception of the truth. Whereas Experience breaks down Songs of Innocence and shows the real horror of the situation.

Blake does this brilliantly by the use of contrast and it is when the 'sister poem' in Songs of Experience is read and that voice of the truth comes through - it forces... Read more

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