August 3, 2021

From Gerald R. Lucas
Songs of Innocence and of Experience copy AA object 29 Title Page for Songs of Experience.jpg
Introduction[1]
By: William Blake (1794)

Hear the voice of the Bard![2]
Who Present, Past, & Future sees;[3]
Whose ears have heard,
The Holy Word,
That walk’d among the ancient trees;[4] 5

Calling the lapsèd Soul[5]
And weeping in the evening dew,
That might controll,[6]
The starry pole,
And fallen, fallen light renew! 10

O Earth, O Earth, return!
Arise from out the dewy grass;
Night is worn,
And the morn
Rises from the slumberous mass. 15

Turn away no more:
Why wilt thou turn away?
The starry floor
The watry shore[7]
Is giv’n thee till the break of day.[8] 20

Notes & Commentary

  1. The introductory poem from the Songs of Experience, 1794, which, along with “Earth’s Answer,” defines the “emotional conditions” of the poems in this book Tomlinson 1987, p. 27). Note that Blake’s poem echoes the social and political uncertainties of the time: the revolutions toppling monarchies on France and America, combined with the economic product of the Age of Enlightenment the Industrial Revolution, brought about the promise of an end to political tyranny but threatened a new kind: that of capitalism. Blake’s style brings together a simple lyrical style with that of darker and more sinister subject matter—creating an unsettling atmosphere that is carried throughout SE (Paulin 2007).
         Compare this poem to its contrary, the “Introduction” from Songs of Innocence. See also the introductory note on “The Lamb” for more background into Blake’s poetic composition and philosophy.
  2. The Bard is the voice of Blake in the songs of experience—the prophet who has heard the translated the word of God from the beginning and who now calls to the Earth to reawaken with a new vision (Gardner 1969, pp. 131–132).
  3. The Bard is able to trace the entire history of humanity through his imagination, from the Biblical original sin to the world that’s reflected through his imagination: “to Blake poetry was simply translated vision: the artist was the seer” (Bellenhouse 1958, p. 52).
  4. Genesis 3.8: Adam and Eve “heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of day.” The Bard has heard the word of God in Eden (Greenblatt 2018, p. 54). The trees here could also bed the “forests of the night” from “The Tyger” that have confused and obscured innocence (Gardner 1969, p. 132).
  5. The syntax is unclear: is it the Bard or the Holy Word that calls upon the lapsèd, or fallen, Soul (and in the next stanza the fallen Earth) to renew the light? Perhaps the Holy Word does not have the power to bring light on its own, but only with the help of the Bard.
  6. I.e., the Soul might control.
  7. For Blake, the sky represents rational order, while the sea is chaos (Greenblatt 2018, p. 54).
  8. This is a limit to the act of love, being concealed under the darkness of night; “Earth’s Answers” reply to Urizen’s demands.

Bibliography

  • Ackroyd, Peter (1995). Blake: A Biography. New York: Ballantine Books.
  • Battenhouse, Henry M. (1958). English Romantic Writers. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.
  • Bloom, Harold (2003). William Blake. Bloom’s Major Poets. New York: Chelsea House.
  • Frye, Northrup (1947). Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Gardner, Stanley (1969). Blake. Literary Critiques. New York: Arco.
  • Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. (2018). The Norton Anthology of English Literature. The Major Authors. 2 (Tenth ed.). New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Makdisi, Saree (2003). "The Political Aesthetic of Blake's Images". In Eaves, Morris. The Cambridge Companion to William Blake. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP. pp. 110–132.
  • — (2015). Reading William Blake. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Paulin, Tom (March 3, 2007). "The Invisible Worm". Guardian. Retrieved 2021-09-04.
  • Thompson, E. P. (1993). Witness Against the Beast. New York: The New Press.
  • Tomlinson, Alan (1987). Song of Innocence and of Experience by William Blake. MacMillan Master Guides. London: MacMillan Education.
  • Wolfson, Susan J. (2003). "Blake's Language in Poetic Form". In Eaves, Morris. The Cambridge Companion to William Blake. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP. pp. 63–83.

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