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Songs of Innocence and of Experience


Songs of Innocence and of Experience


‘Love seeketh not itself to please,

Nor for itself hath any care,

But for another gives its ease,

And builds a heaven in hell’s despair.’


 As Keith Sagar has written, “The subtitle of Songs of Innocence and of Experience is ‘Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul’.

The word ‘contrary’ had a very specific and important meaning for Blake: like almost all great poets, he was an enemy of dualism.

“For two thousand five hundred years Western thought has been intensely dualistic, seeing everything as composed of warring opposites, head and heart, body and spirit, male and female, human and non-human, life and death, innocence and experience, good and evil, heaven and hell, as though the split between the hemispheres of the human brain were projecting itself on everything perceived by that brain.

“Thus, by describing at the outset innocence and experience as ‘contrary states of the human soul’ Blake is warning us that we are not being invited to choose between them, that no such choice is possible or desirable, and that we are not simply going to be offered here the truism that innocent joy is preferable to the sorrows of experience.

The short poems of Blake are like pebbles thrown into a pool, creating ripples that move outwards indefinitely, affecting everything they touch.

At their gentlest they are like tendrils caressing the world; at their most violent like bombs smashing to smithereens the false structures of existing beliefs and opinions.


WILLIAM BLAKE (1757–1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Blake is considered a key figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. His visionary poetry led one contemporary art critic to proclaim him "far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced".

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