The Violation of William Blake's Songs of Innocence Essay

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The Violation of Blake's Songs of Innocence

Abstract: William Blake's Songs of Innocence contains a group of poetic works that the artist conceptualized as entering into a dialogue with each other and with the works in his companion work, Songs of Experience. He also saw each of the poems in Innocence as operating as part of an artistic whole creation that was encompassed by the poems and images on the plates he used to print these works. While Blake exercised a fanatical degree of control over his publications during his lifetime, after his death his poems became popular and were encountered without the contextual material that he intended to accompany them.

William Blake was probably more concerned than any other
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He claimed that the essentials of the method had been communicated to him in a dream by his brother, Robert, two years after Robert's death (Doyle 563). Songs of Innocence was the first of Blake's major works, which he printed with this process (Keynes 11). Innocence was first published in 1789, although copies of drafts of the poems are extant from as early as 1784 (Keynes 9). The poems in Innocence are among the most frequently studied and collected of Blake's poems, although the single most frequently anthologized poem of Blake's -- and the most frequently published poem in the English language -- is "The Tyger," from Innocence's companion book Songs of Experience (Hilton 6).

Unlike Wordsworth (who spent more than fifty years writing four complete versions of The Prelude, ranging from two to fourteen books, without ever publishing the book) and Coleridge (who published five different texts of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner between 1798 and 1817), Blake rarely revised a poem once it had been printed. Blake himself wrote the following about his plates in "The Caverns of the Grave I've seen":

Re-engrav'd Time after Time,

Ever in their youthful prime,

My designs unchang'd remain.(Frye 6)

Northrop Frye argues that these lines, in conjunction with the manuscript evidence remaining of the original editions of Blake's books, mean that Blake intended for the engraved poems to constitute a sort of canon of poems which
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