In my essay I will try to explain the thesis "Without Contraries is no Progression". This sentence is actually William Blake's motto, which he wrote in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. However, this motto is also perfectly shown in Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. The basic contrast is shown in the title, innocence and experience being, as Blake put it himself, "two contrary states of the human soul".
The poems are divided into those which speak about childhood, love, mercy and to those which speak about adulthood, cruelty, pessimism. Blake made a very strong contrast between those two types of poems, and many times he spoke about the same problem through two different perspectives, as in the two poems about a chimney sweeper. He occasionally expressed the contrast between innocence and experience in one single poem, as in The Clod and the Pebble. In this essay I will analyse some poems that clearly show the contrast that Blake wanted to emphasize. I will also show that Blake did not put innocence before experience or vice versa. He showed that experience and innocence are two contrasted states, but that they also complement each other.Blake organized his poems into two parts, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. In Song of Innocence, Blake spoke about childhood, youth, idealism, and in Song of Experience, he showed us how innocence can be corrupted and broken by hypocrisy and pessimism.
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This is clearly shown in C.M. Bowra's article Songs of Innocence and Experience: "The two sections of Blake's book, the songs of innocence and the songs of experience, are contrasted elements in a single design. The first part sets out an imaginative vision of the state of innocence: the second shows how life challenges, and corrupts and destroys it."(139) Therefore, the experience that we gather during the time of growing up eventually destroys the optimism that we had as children. However, Blake was not trying to make us choose between innocence and experience.
He was trying to show that they are complementary, that they are both necessary to one another. As Bowra states:He saw that though his state of childlike happiness, which he seemed to have enjoyedin his first manhood, is wonderfully charming, it is not everything, and it cannot last.To reach a higher state man must be tested by experience and suffering. This is the link between the two sections of Blake's book.
Experience is not only a fact; it is a necessary stage in the cycle of being. In may in many ways be a much lower state than innocence, and this Blake stresses with great power, but is none the less necessary. (146 – 147)Both innocence and experience are flawed, but the contrast between them is necessary for any kind of progress. Innocence is for Blake more admirable than experience, but innocence cannot exist on its own, it needs experience in order to grow. We could say that without experience, innocence would be naivety.
In Song of Innocence, Blake's main theme is childhood. The poems are cheerful, full of laughter, positive images and happiness. As it is said in the article The Romantic Poets I: Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge, written by David Daiches:The introductory poem Piping down the valleys wild, Nurse's Song, Holy Thursday, the well-known Little Lamb, who made thee? have a childlike directness and a sense of controlled joy in the human and natural world that show none of the signs of a grownup writing for children or playing at being a child that so much deliberately simple poetry shows. There is an intensity, a distilled quality about them which derives from the prophetic and visionary Blake. (863.
– 864.)Song of Innocence are pure, there is not even a hint of something evil in them, bad and corrupted. It is almost like Blake created a fairy-tale, an imaginary land where everyone is safe from harm and protected from the outside world. He used symbols from the Bible, symbols of purity, goodness and mercy, such as the lamb, Christ, and the Good Shepherd.
Bowra points out: "In the Songs of Innocence the symbols convey a special kind of existence or state of soul. In this state human beings have the same kind of security and assurance as belongs to lambs under a wise shepherd or to children of loving parents" (144.). On the other hand, Songs of Experience speak about misery, cruelty, and sadness.
Daiches observes: "The notion that spontaneity of the imagination and of the emotions has been killed by legalism and cold selfishness is expressed in many ways throughout these poems" (867.). Songs of Experience.