Book Reviews

Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul (Oxford Paperbacks) by William Blake

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List Price: £8.99


Paperback: 156 Pages.

Published: 15 October 1970 by OUP Oxford

Edition: New Ed

ISBN: 0192810898

EAN: 9780192810892

Blake was one of the finest craftsmen of his time, an artist for whom art and poetry were inextricably linked. He was an indepedent and rebellious thinker, who abhorred pretention and falsity in others. His Songs of Innocence are products of this innocent imagination untainted by worldliness, while the Songs of Experience resulted from his feelings of indignation and pity for the sufferings of mankind. The Songs of Innocence and Experience , containing some of Blake's finest and best-loved poems, are presented here in the form which best satisfied the high expectations of his poetic and artistic aspirations. The fifty-four plates which Blake originallly etched and coloured by hand are faithfully reproduced with the same delicacy and dimensions as the artist created them.


4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars  by Anne

Poems and illustrations which interlink

The version I have is published by the Oxford University Press and has reproductions of the illustrations which the author painted and which are very much part of the poetry. Unfortunately, the reproductions of the illustrations are the same size as the original which is about a third of the size of the printed page; if they were bigger I would have been able to see the detail better. I read the poems at a rate of one or two each day. I find that too much is  overload and I begin to lose my ability to appreciate them. This book also had some brief notes about each illustration and poem at the end but I didn’t really need them although they were useful in highlighting the main themes and meanings.

Blake’s poems and illustrations are very much as the title indicates about innocence and experience. Many of them have themes taken from the Bible and the view of creation and the fall are important in some of the poems. He seems to equate innocence with a sort of pastoral idyll and experience, and the loss of innocence with industrialisation. He sees the loss of innocence as associated with poverty but some of the poems also connect it with developing sexuality. Innocence is an ideal state and experience is the loss of that. Innocence is good and experience is not. This is only a very brief overview of the themes I noticed; undoubtedly a scholar could come up with more.

Most of the poems are short and some of them are very well known: “Tyger Tyger” and “The Sick Rose” were two I recognised. I thought Blake was very idealistic and I am not sure that I recognised or even agreed with his image of innocence. I did, however, enjoy reading the poems and found them easy to decode (unless, of course I have completely missed the point). The illustrations added to the experience and it was good to have the opportunity to read them as the poet intended.

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