The Songs of Innocence, written in 1789, and The Songs of Experience, written in 1794, both by William Blake, are perhaps two of the greatest examples of Romantic lyric poetry in history. Blake intended for the two books of poetry to be read together in order to show “the two contrary states of the human soul.” Blake shows the parallels between the innocence of a child and the experience of an adult. The world of innocence is one dominated by the spirit of joy and happiness. They reflect the emotions and feeling of children. Children are often deeply sensitive and find it nearly impossible to hide their emotions. In “The Chimney Sweeper,” the speaker, although he is a child also, is a nurturer to little Tom Dacre. The speaker is a comforter to little Tom and ensures that he is cared for. Although their situation is a negative one, the speaker has a positive outlook on the life that he and Tom share. He is naïve and unable to recognize the depth of his situation. In contrast, the world of experience is characterized by negative qualities. Cruelty, hurt and distrust are prevalent themes in these poems. In “The Chimney Sweeper”, the speaker is living in a world of sadness and despair. “And because I am happy, & dance & sing,/ They think they have done me no injury” (ll. 9-10). The speaker, unlike the chimney sweeper in the world of innocence, is alone and miserable. He is no longer filled with false hopes. His naivety is gone and all is clear to him.
William Blake was also intrigued with the relationship between man and nature. In “The Book of Thel,” Blake shows one girl’s journey from innocence to experience and her ultimate failure in the transition. Thel is a young virginal girl, captivated by the world of sex and experience. Her name “Thel” itself signifies a wish or desire. Although she wants to make the transition into experience, Thel is frightened by the prospects it entails. She engages in a dialogue with various forms of nature throughout her journey. Thel questions a lily of the valley, a cloud, a worm and a clod of clay and each describes to her the joys of co-existing in a world where everything has its place: “everything that lives, / Lives not alone, nor for itself” (73-4). Forms of nature work together to create a circular relationship where they all subsist. However, Thel is uncomforted by the answers she receives from nature. She finds herself unable to commit to joining the circle. By crossing over into the world of Experience, she would be forced to forsake her immortality. Instead she opts to remain in the land of innocence and immortality. “The Book of Thel” represents Blake’s belief in the ongoing relationship between nature and man. In the poem Blake displays “a communicative structure for the relationship of an individual and nature, and Blake, like other radical thinkers redefines perceptual events as dialogical phenomena…”(Lussier 402). Blake uses Thel’s journey to represent the decision that all men must inevitably face. Although Thel retreats, it is evident that those who commune with nature and those who embrace the changes of the natural world, gain self-knowledge. The poem symbolizes the passage from adolescence to adulthood and sexual maturity. As a result of Thel’s journey and subsequent retreat, the reader is enlightened to the decision all men must inevitably face
William Blake. “The Book of Thel.” English Romantic Writer. Ed. David Perkins.
William Blake. “The Songs of Innocence and Experience.” English Romantic Writer. Ed. Davis Perkins.