Infinity on the Anvil: A Critical Study of Blake's Poetry

By Stanley Gardner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
SONGS OF EXPERIENCE

I HAVE separated the Songs of Experience from the Songs of Innocence, since the contrast between Innocence and Experience can only be discussed after the symbolism has been traced through the intervening books.

The mind that conceived the Songs of Experience and the contemporary and later poems that occur in the Rossetti Ms. was a mind that had passed through the fires of Los. Time after time we find Experience in these poems reaching back into the realms of meaning explored in the 'Prophetic' Books, and especially in The Book of Urizen. Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love, the human heart, face, form divine, and dress, no longer sway and adorn the actions of Innocence; instead:1

Cruelty has a Human Heart,
And Jealousy a Human Face;
Terror the Human Form Divine,
And Secrecy the Human Dress.

The Human Dress is forged Iron,
The Human Form a fiery Forge,
The Human Face a Furnace seal'd,
The Human Heart its hungry Gorge.
(p. 106; 81.)

There is throughout the poetry of Experience an intense awareness of corporal reality, and this awareness, above all else, separates Experience from Innocence. The children in Innocence acted simply, with complete joy in their actions. Then all was harmony and union, now all is division and separation. The senses are inhibited within a mortal frame, mankind within walls and beneath roofs. As man is separate from man, so deed is separate from motive; no joy is spontaneous, and the poet turns inevitably from the contemplation of an action to an examination of the ulterior motives and purposes of action, purposes which deprive deeds of their pristine Innocence. When a child slept in Innocence,

All creation slept and smil'd,

and the smile of the infant was the smile of the true God, which

Heaven & earth to peace beguiles.
(p. 71; 58.)

-100-

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Infinity on the Anvil: A Critical Study of Blake's Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction on the Nature of Poetic Symbolism 1
  • Chapter I- The Beginnings in Innocence 15
  • Chapter II- The Edge of Experience 31
  • Chapter III- The Conflict in Experience 46
  • Chapter IV- Infinity on the Anvil 77
  • Chapter V- Songs of Experience 100
  • Chapter VI- Disintegration 132
  • Notes 153
  • A Short Reading List 156
  • Index 157
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