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William Blake: From Innocence to Experience

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With his individual visions William Blake created new symbols and myths in the British literature. The purpose of his poetry was to wake up our imagination and to present the reality between a heavenly place and a dark hell. In his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience he manages to do this with simplicity. These two types of poetry were written in two different stages of his life, consequently there could be seen a move from his innocence towards experience.

He was born on November 28, 1757 in London (at 28 Broad Street, Golden Square), to James Blake, a hosier, and his wife Catherine Wright Armitage Blake. He was educated by his mother at home, instead of formal school while his father encouraged his artistic talents. Blake said that he experienced visions of angels and ghostly monks. He claimed his 'first vision' came when he was about ten, while sauntering along in London, and saw a tree filled with angels. These visions had great influence on his literary and artistic development, too. At the same age he was sent to Mr Pars' drawing school where he copied plaster-casts of ancient sculptures. Later on, his father sent him to an engraver James Basire then he was sent to Westminster Abbey to make drawings of tombs and monuments. As a result he became not only a renowned poet, but a good print-seller as well.

Blake started combining poems with pictures. This way he managed to brake with the traditional rules of art and poetry, rejecting the values of the 18th century. Among his contemporaries were Wordsworth and Coleridge, all of them were interested in imagination and nature, and reflected these ideas throughout their poetry. They created the romantic era in English literature, by bringing something new in the face of (English) poetry.

While Wordsworth gave a supernatural charm to his daffodils, with the help of his vivid imagination, Coleridge removed the film of familiarity, and converted the supernatural into natural things. Blake, in order to protect his own visions, created new symbols and myths with the help of his poems.

One of the new things he brought, as I have already mentioned, is the bridge that he made between poetry and art. I think, he did it very well and extended, in a way, the reader's imagination. The reader can hear and see the poem at the same time. The picture created in our mind is transformed into a visual image. Here are, for example, the illustrations of Blake's well known poems "The Chimney Sweeper" from the Songs of Innocence and Songs of Eperience. We could observe the difference between the presentation of innocence and the one of experience.

The first volume of the Songs of Innocence was published in 1789, while the Songs of Experience in 1794. There is obviously, a period of 5 years between the two, a period, which is reflected in the included poems, as well. As, it is mentioned in the title, the Songs of Innocence are presented from a more innocent point of view, celebrating childhood and joy. The Songs of Experience introduces the reader in a deeper study of maturity, and deals with corruption and social injustice. The best example, that contrasts the differences between the two books, and these two points of view mentioned above, is his well-known poem, "The Chimney Sweeper".

"The Chimney Sweeper" is present in both of the Songs of Innocence and Experience. The subject of these poems is similar. Both of them emphasize the miserable life of the chimney sweeps in England at that time. Blake criticizes child labor and the society that allowed these little boys to do such a dangerous work. The rhythm of the poems is also the same producing the effect of children's song. Its rhyme scheme is aabb, abab. Another important similarity is that both of them are told from a child's point of view. Opposed to this, a major difference between the poems is that in the 'innocence' poem the child's view is more innocent, unaware of the dangers of such a job. The young chimney sweep, which seems to be more experienced in this business than his friends, tries to give an advice to the new chimneysweeper named Tom Dacre. Tom cries when his hair is shaved. The experienced little boy tries to teach him and make him familiar with this new job. He says: "Hush, Tom! Never mind it, for when your head's bore". He also explains, that this is part of the job, and will cause no harm, because if he is shaved "the soot cannot spoil" his "white hair." Later that very night Tom had a dream. He saw his friends, the other young chimneysweepers, locked up in a black coffin. Here the coffin could symbolize the chimney itself where the children have to slide in while doing their works. Then came an angel, who rescued all of them: "And by came an angel who had a bright key,/ And he open'd the coffins and set them all free."

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