AN ANALYSIS OF WILLIAM BLAKES SONGS

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AN ANALYSIS OF WILLIAM BLAKE’S SONGS OF
INNOCENCE AND OF EXPERIENCE AS A RESPONSE TO
THE COLLAPSE OF VALUES
TIMOTHY VINES∗
Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience are a much studied part of the
English canon, and for good reason. Blake’s work depicts a quandary that continues to haunt humanity today: the struggle of high-order humanity against the ‘real’ rationality and morals of institutionalised society. This essay seeks to explore both Blake’s literary reaction to the Enlightenment and the response of early readers to his work.

Showing more than ‘the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul’,1 Blake’s
Songs of Innocence and Experience reveals a symbolic development which existed in opposition to conventional concepts of modernity and
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Experience was born out of the political troubles – both in England and abroad – which, to Blake, exemplified the struggle of spirit against oppression.
A Malcolmson (ed.), William Blake: an introduction, Constable Young Books Ltd, London, 1967.
His enemies and critics equated Blake ‘with religious fanatics like Joanna Southcote and lunatics like Richard
Brothers.’ D Dorfman, Blake in the nineteenth century: His reputation as a poet from Gilchrist to Yeats, Yale University Press,
New Haven, 1969, p. 16.
5 Blake’s method of engraving was as ingenious and novel as his style of writing. According to Blake, his brother
Robert, who died in early 1787, visited him in a dream and told him the correct method to engrave his poems. See
Malcolmson.
6 See Blake’s colour plates in Keynes’ reproduction.
7 To avoid repetition the individual volumes of Songs of Innocence and of Experience will be cited as Innocence and
Experience respectively.
8 G Keynes, in Blake, p. xiv.
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An Analysis of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience – Timothy Vines

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Nonetheless it would be inappropriate to read the two collections in isolation.
Blake published both Songs in one volume and the thematic development and harmony between the volumes and individual poems supports an interpretation which treats both Songs as contrasting elements of a single discourse. Similarities
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