Songs of Searching

William Blake, in many ways, polarizes innocence and experience in his book of poems Songs of Innocence and of Experience.  His exploration of these are literally separated by a frontispiece and title page.  Moreover, he marks the primary differences between innocence and experience by showing the evolution of poems — “Infant Joy” in the first half becomes “Infant Sorrow” in the second, for example.

For Blake, there is, I think, a too-clean cut between the states of innocence and of experience.  But then again, such dichotomy reflects the nature of each enterprise well.  Innocence is an extremely isolated state, as it is pure and even natural (if you’re a Romantic).  Experience, on the other hand, is dredged in the muck of “reality:” labor, questions of faith, and urbanization.

What strikes me most as I read Songs is Blake’s moderate suggestion that innocence and experience should be considered as separate but also inseparable.  They are, like husband and wife, clearly bound to each other. A colleague of mine argued that they are actually the same thing (based on his analysis of Blake’s “call and answer” style — I was very nearly convinced but refuse to be completely convinced about anything).

Experience comes from innocence.

But can innocence come from experience?

The voice of almost every poem in Songs is one of searching for a leader.  The chosen leader, however, appears to be one that brings the child — literal and figurative — out of innocence and into experience.  As the last plate (sometimes considered the penultimate plate) relays: we, readers, have followed leaders who “wish to lead others when they should be led.”

In “The Little Boy Lost,” the child searches for his “father” who can’t be found.  He is led, instead, to his mother in “The Little Boy Found.”  But does she lead him astray?

Is the missing “father” and substitute mother what leads the child to the Tygers and, as a result, toward experience?

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