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William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience (2004)

Many scholars thought the years have tried to understand the meaning of the words "Innocence" and "Experience" based in William Blake’s poems from Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Based on my understanding on his poems, I believe that Blake meant these two words in a different way that some dictionaries define them today.

According to the Merriam Webster’s School Dictionary, innocence is the freedom from guilt or the blame of sin. It is the state of being free from evil influences or effects that come from the lack of sophistication, guile or self-consciousness. On the other hand, this dictionary defines experience as the conscious perception or understanding of reality or of an event. Experience makes someone skillful or wise.

Innocence and Experience can be perceived as contrary states of the human soul. As evidenced in William Blake’s poems, one cannot be at the same time innocent and experienced in the same area. Additionally, all human souls should go naturally through both states in one point or another of their lives. Blake usually associates Innocence with childhood and sinless people. However, he also criticizes church in "The Chimney Sweeper" from Songs of Experience as it should be an institution that does not support cruelty and is made of humans who sin less often. On the other hand, Blake associates Experience with adults and nature. In the poem Tyger, experience is represented in a tiger.

In the poem "The Chimney Sweeper" from Songs of Innocence, Innocence has a positive connotation. Colors are very important in this poem as they also support the ideas presented by Blake. Innocence is associated and compared with "bright light" and with pure objects. Tom’s hair is white while he is completely black due to the chimney sweeping. Experience is associated with black, as in the sentence "coffins of black" were this color suggests death. In the poem, green, gold, and blue are present as symbols of joy. The colors white and black are present alternatively in each stanza, meaning that both states of the states of human soul could be present, but only one is predominant.

Innocence does not complain about reality and finds the positive aspects in all situations. Tom’s whiteness also symbolizes his purity. It is important to notice than even in this poem all positive is not positive: there is still evil, only that with his innocent eyes, the boy is not able to perceive it. The repetition of "weep" four times at the beginning of the poem implies the pain of the sweeper. At the end of the poem, the Angel changes the black for the white. Tom becomes happy and warm.

William Blake interprets Innocence as a condition of a man before he falls. It should involve imagination to overcome bravely a new world. A child is innocent when he has not yet experienced the inner divisions of human life. Innocence could be interpreted as a harmony in life.

On the other hand, in Songs of Experience, experience has a negative connotation since the beginning. Once again, color is a very important device. However, in this poem only "dark black" is predominant. The poem begins with "A little black thing among the snow". The use of the word thing implies the insignificance of an object. The use of the snow represents society’s cold-heartedness. This poem wants to point the indifference from the parents especially, but it also criticizes society as a whole and the church.

Experience is an inner state symbolized externally by such images as chains, thorns, spears, graves, blood, roots which are representing feelings. It could be interpreted that experience is the part of the normal adult life as adults try to analyze their feelings. Experience is not associated with spontaneity as society exerts pressure and influences the lives of the people. Blake saw experience as not just bitter but an opportunity to gain wisdom. The harmony of innocence is lost but insight comes in its place.

Experience always finds the negative aspects of a problem, feels the misery, and blames other people for their pain. For example, in the poem "The Chimney Sweeper" from Songs of Experience, the child in a way blames his parents for all his misfortunes and doesn’t do anything to get out of his misery. Blake expresses that the chimney sweeper is happy as he dances and sings, which is a great irony. Finally, the poem expresses the boy’s loneliness in the world and the lack of support from his family and society in itself.

The English poet William Blake expressed his interpretation of Innocence and Experience throughout his poems. Based on my understanding and Blake’s perception, both phases are necessary to contrast with each other and make a difference in our lives. A human being would not be able to identify an experienced person if all of us had always been experienced. Although the passing of one phase to the next can many times be shocking, these two states enhance our perception of the world and in a way help us achieve our happiness by understanding better the evil and the good in the world.