Neil Hester

All poems © Neil Hester unless otherwritten

Location: North Carolina, United States

Friday, June 01, 2007

Songs (and Singer[s]) of Innocence

Well, I decided to look into William Blake's Songs of Innocence for two reasons: one, I enjoy the child-like approach more than any other, and two, I've been told by Dan that a couple of my poems resemble such songs. After reading about 20 of them, there are some interesting segments and a few excellent poems, but some of Blake's songs are rather lightweight. Sure, I can enjoy them, but there is quite a bit of fluff to be had in certain selections. Let's look at 3 Songs of Innocence:


The Schoolboy

I love to rise in a summer morn
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the skylark sings with me.
Oh, what sweet company!

But to go to school in a summer morn,
Oh! it drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn
The little ones spend the day
In sighing and dismay.

Ah! then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour;
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learning's bower,
Worn through with the dreary shower.

How can the bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing?
How can a child, when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring?

O, father and mother, if buds are nipped
And blossoms blown away,
And if the tender plants are stripped
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and care's dismay,

How shall the summer arise in joy,
Or the summer fruits appear?
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy,
Or bless the mellowing year,
When the blasts of winter appear?

By William Blake


The music of this piece is very nice (well, it is lyrical), drawing from the benefits of the form. The last stanza adds a level of depth to the poem and gives it purpose. Now, let's look at one of the more famous SoI:


The Lamb

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life & bid thee feed
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, wooly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee:
He is callèd by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb.
He is meek, & he is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, & thou a lamb,
We are callèd by his name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

By William Blake


Let's be fair; the music is pretty good, although the repetition can be a bit much, and there's an interesting inversion of sorts in the second stanza. However, there's quite a bit of fluff here (a la lamba?) that's quite unnecessary, unless I'm missing something. The title is also rather bland (but hey, it's a song!). Now, how about this one?


A Cradle Song

Sweet dreams, form a shade
O’er my lovely infant’s head;
Sweet dreams of pleasant streams
By happy, silent, moony beams.

Sweet Sleep, with soft down
Weave thy brows an infant crown.
Sweet Sleep, Angel mild,
Hover o’er my happy child.

Sweet smiles, in the night
Hover over my delight;
Sweet smiles, mother’s smiles,
All the livelong night beguiles.

Sweet moans, dovelike sighs,
Chase not slumber from thy eyes.
Sweet moans, sweeter smiles,
All the dovelike moans beguiles.

Sleep, sleep, happy child,
All creation slept and smil'd;
Sleep, sleep, happy sleep,
While o’er thee thy mother weep.

Sweet babe, in thy face
Holy image I can trace.
Sweet babe, once like thee,
Thy Maker lay and wept for me,

Wept for me, for thee, for all,
When He was an infant small.
Thou His image ever see,
Heavenly face that smiles on thee

Smiles on thee, on me, on all;
Who became an infant small.
Infant smiles are His own smiles;
Heaven and earth to peace beguiles.

By William Blake


Music is, once again, extremely strong (Blake doesn't have any problems with that); there is some interesting repetition (e.g. "dovelike sighs" to "dovelike moans"), but this poem is on a sugar high; "sweet" occurs 11 times, often in cliché situations. I realize it's a song, but I still find the repetitive embellishment with heavy religious overtones to be a bit much.

I appreciate Blake's Songs of Innocence; there's fine poetry to be had, and, once again, they heavily apply my favorite tone. I'm writing my own "Songs of Innocence", somewhat, sans the religious focus and the long, super-fluffy poems (Blake cued me to repeat "fluff" a few times to make my entry stronger). "A Difficulty in Parenting" falls under my idea of a SoI, as do these two poems (I may as well throw something[s] of my own out there):


The History of Dragons

"And that is how the mighty prince
Slew the fearsome dragon."
I read, and ever since
It seems there’s fighting to be done.

My boys encounter readily
The dreadful dragon hordes,
And nick the books of history
With little wooden swords.


The Entertained

The wheeling song is sounding near;
A chill for children, street to street.
Quit your play and trail the ear
That hears a sweet and papered treat!

–It leaves them, nigh empyreal;
The day resumes as it began,
Though other work seems less ideal
Than that of the man in the ice cream van.


Take Care,


Blogger Lady M said...

Hi there. Just discovered your blog and think its great-not enough people (4% to be exact) care about poetry. Just wanted to let you know since you mentioned religous overtones that the entirity of Songs of Innocence is religous and was meant to teach school children. Please, please, please look at the pitcures that accompany it. Blakes drawings of god are amazing.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Don't have them at hand, but about a dozen of the SOI are deceptively simple. They are better than Mother Goose, but the Songs Of Experience are deeper than SOI. They are his major poems, unlike the long insane rants.

4:02 PM  
Blogger LAEvanesce said...

Lady M: Thanks a lot for stopping by; glad to have you. I will admit that I didn't take a look at the pictures. They're very nice and complement the poems very well. The poems, similar to Mother Goose (I'll agree with Dan that as a whole they're better), are largely meant for children, as you pointed out; I just figured it would be worthwhile to note that there are differences in depth from song to song. If you have a blog, I'd love to pay a visit, but your profile's set on private; hope you get back ^^

Dan: I really do need to read the whole set- it feels like there are different versions or selections of the SoI with a variety of poems included, so it's a bit hard to track them all down. I have yet to dive into his Songs of Experience or rants; eventually I'll take a look at those as well.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Blake's complete poems online.

Lady M: while the poems are definitely tinged with religion, Blake was also quite subversive, in that many of his poems undercut Christian themes with secular humanistic posits.

Also, Blake is one in a long line of poets who tried visual arts- such as e.e. cummings, who were much better wordsmiths than visual artists.

Blake's drawings and engravings are fairly amateurish, while the greatest of his poems can stand alongside anyone's.

7:00 PM  
Blogger Wanderlust Scarlett said...

I like this post very much.

I'm sure you are familiar with this favorite of mine... (forgive me the audacity of posting the whole thing, but I love it so much that I couldn't do it the injustice of condensing it)

John Greenleaf Whittier~

Blessings on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
With thy turned-up pantaloons,
And thy merry whistled tunes;
With thy red lip, redder still
Kissed by strawberries on the hill;
With the sunshine on thy face,
Through thy torn brim’s jaunty grace;
From my heart I give thee joy,—
I was once a barefoot boy!
Prince thou art,—the grown-up man
Only is republican.
Let the million-dollared ride!
Barefoot, trudging at his side,
Thou hast more than he can buy
In the reach of ear and eye,—
Outward sunshine, inward joy:
Blessings on thee, barefoot boy!

Oh for boyhood’s painless play,
Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
Health that mocks the doctor’s rules,
Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee’s morning chase,
Of the wild-flower’s time and place,
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood;
How the tortoise bears his shell,
How the woodchuck digs his cell,
And the ground-mole sinks his well;
How the robin feeds her young,
How the oriole’s nest is hung;
Where the whitest lilies blow,
Where the freshest berries grow,
Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
Where the wood-grape’s clusters shine;
Of the black wasp’s cunning way,
Mason of his walls of clay,
And the architectural plans
Of gray hornet artisans!
For, eschewing books and tasks,
Nature answers all he asks;
Hand in hand with her he walks,
Face to face with her he talks,
Part and parcel of her joy,—
Blessings on the barefoot boy!

Oh for boyhood’s time of June,
Crowding years in one brief moon,
When all things I heard or saw,
Me, their master, waited for.
I was rich in flowers and trees,
Humming-birds and honey-bees;
For my sport the squirrel played,
Plied the snouted mole his spade;
For my taste the blackberry cone
Purpled over hedge and stone;
Laughed the brook for my delight
Through the day and through the night,
Whispering at the garden wall,
Talked with me from fall to fall;
Mine the sand-rimmed pickerel pond,
Mine the walnut slopes beyond,
Mine, on bending orchard trees,
Apples of Hesperides!
Still as my horizon grew,
Larger grew my riches too;
All the world I saw or knew
Seemed a complex Chinese toy,
Fashioned for a barefoot boy!
Oh for festal dainties spread,
Like my bowl of milk and bread;
Pewter spoon and bowl of wood,
On the door-stone, gray and rude!
O’er me, like a regal tent,
Cloudy-ribbed, the sunset bent,
Purple-curtained, fringed with gold,
Looped in many a wind-swung fold;
While for music came the play
Of the pied frogs’ orchestra;
And, to light the noisy choir,
Lit the fly his lamp of fire.
I was monarch: pomp and joy
Waited on the barefoot boy!

Cheerily, then, my little man,
Live and laugh, as boyhood can!
Though the flinty slopes be hard,
Stubble-speared the new-mown sward,
Every morn shall lead thee through
Fresh baptisms of the dew;
Every evening from thy feet
Shall the cool wind kiss the heat:
All too soon these feet must hide
In the prison cells of pride,
Lose the freedom of the sod,
Like a colt’s for work be shod,
Made to treat the mills of toil,
Up and down in ceaseless moil:
Happy if their track be found
Never on forbidden ground;
Happy if they sink not in
Quick and treacherous sands of sin.
Ah! that thou couldst know thy joy,
Ere it passes, barefoot boy!

4:07 PM  

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