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Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human

Soul (Canzoni dell'Innocenza e dell'Esperienza: rappresentazione dei Due Stati Contrari dell'Anima
Umana) è una raccolta di poesie del pittore e poeta inglese William Blake. La produzione delle varie
edizioni originali delle raccolte di poesie fu il risultato di un processo di stampa inventato da Blake
stesso. Ogni singola tavola veniva realizzata al contrario su delle lastre di metallo, poi incise con acido
per creare il rilievo necessario a stampare. Venivano stampate con inchiostro marrone e poi colorate
manualmente. Le poche copie create con questo metodo venivano vendute ad amici e collezionisti. [1]
L'opera è divisa in due libri, Songs of Innocence e Songs of Experience. Anche se Songs of
Innocence fu pubblicato autonomamente nel 1789, si ritiene che i due libri siano sempre stati pubblicati
congiuntamente fin da quando Songs of Experience fu completato, nel 1794.
TEMI
Songs of Innocence raccoglie componimenti con temi quali l'innocenza e la gioia della natura,
sostenendo l'amore libero e un rapporto più profondo con Dio; include una delle poesie più famose di
Blake, The Lamb. Le poesie che compongono questo libro sono leggere, ottimistiche e pastorali, e
sono scritte dalla prospettiva dei bambini, o in alternativa trattano proprio loro.
Per contro, Songs of Experience tratta la perdita dell'innocenza dopo il contatto col mondo materiale
nell'età adulta; un esempio è la poesia The Tyger. Le composizioni di questo volume sono più cupe e si
concentrano su temi politici e più seri in generale. Spesso le stesse situazioni vengono analizzate in
entrambi i libri, tanto che le poesie quasi possono essere analizzate in coppia.
Infatti, molte delle poesie che appaiono in Songs of Innocence hanno una controparte in Songs of
Experience, con opposti punti di vista. La disastrosa fine della Rivoluzione franceseaveva segnato
profondamente Blake, che aveva perso fede nella bontà intrinseca dell'uomo, e ciò spiega il senso di
disperazione distribuito in tutto il secondo volume.
Crescere, oltretutto, secondo il poeta, causava non solo nella maggioranza delle persone la perdita del
dono dell'immaginazione (valutato immensamente dai poeti romantici inglesi, tra
cui Coleridge e Wordsworth), ma anche la perdita dell'innocenza attraverso lo sfruttamento e la
comunità religiosa che anteponeva il dogma e la moralità alla misericordia. Tuttavia non credeva che i
bambini dovessero essere preservati totalmente dall'esperienza: in realtà a suo avviso il contatto con
l'esperienza doveva avvenire in modo personale, attraverso le loro scoperte, cosa che è evidente in un
certo numero di componimenti; difatti, secondo il poeta, essendo esperienza ed innocenza due stadi
contrari dell'animo umano, non era possibile ottenere la vera innocenza senza l'esperienza.
SONGS OF INNOCENCE
Il volume fu pubblicato singolarmente nel 1789, e dell'edizione originale sono state rinvenute per certo
solo 21 copie con piccole variazioni di colori ma non di testo[2] Alcune poesie sono state spostate, con
l'uscita di Songs of Experience, al secondo volume, perché evidentemente più adatte.[2]
In questo volume vi sono alcune figure chiave che si ripetono, alcune di tema pastorale, come il
Pastore, ed il più famoso Agnello, simbolo che non riprende tanto il Cristo come figura, piuttosto è volto
a simboleggiare l'innocenza più pura, lo stadio beato del bambino[2].
Di seguito l'elenco delle poesie della raccolta Songs of Innocence:

 Introduction
 The Shepherd
 The Echoing Green
 The Lamb
 The Little Black Boy
 The Blossom
 The Chimney Sweeper
 The Little Boy lost
 The Little Boy found
 Laughing Song
 A Cradle Song
 The Divine Image
 Holy Thursday
 Night
 Spring
 Nurse's Song
 Infant Joy
 A Dream
 On Another's Sorrow

SONGS OF EXPERIENCE
Fu pubblicato insieme a Songs of Innocence nel 1794. Dell'edizione originale sono sopravvissuti 27
esemplari [2]. Contiene 26 poesie, alcune delle quali, tra cui The Little Boy Lost, The Little Boy
Found e The School Boy (nell'edizione del 1818), vennero spostate da Songs of Innocence. Alcune
vennero frequentemente spostate tra i due libri, come The Voice of the Ancient Bard[2].
Blake pone a contrasto questa raccolta con Songs of Innocence. Mostra infatti che cosa si ottiene se la
lotta interna dello spirito umano anziché lasciata a libero sviluppo (come mostrato nel primo tomo)
viene oppressa e forzata a conformarsi alle regole e alle dottrine, in particolare la dottrina anglicana,
che a suo avviso imponeva ai suoi membri di sopprimere i propri sentimenti. L'attacco si rende molto
chiaro in The Garden of Love. Tra le poesie più apprezzabili vi sono anche: The Tyger, Ah, Sun-
flower, A poison tree, The Sick Rose e London.
Sebbene fosse largamente apprezzato, Blake visse la sua vita in povertà e oppresso dai debiti. Songs
of Experience, infatti, vendette solo 20 copie fino al 1827, quando il poeta morì.
Ecco l'elenco delle poesie della raccolta Songs of Experience:

 Introduction
 Earth's Answer
 My Pretty Rose Tree
 A Poison Tree
 The Tyger
 The Sick Rose
 Infant Sorrow
 The Chimney Sweeper (Experience)
 Holy Thursday (Experience)
 London
 Ah! Sunflower
 The Fly
 The Clod and the Pebble
 The Garden of Love
 The Voice of the Ancient Bard
 A Divine Image

Analysis of William Blake’s two


“Chimney Sweeper” poems
William Blake’s two “Chimney Sweeper” poems from the Songs of
Innocenceand Songs of Experience

 Character growth and progression in children as shown in Blake’s


“The Chimney Sweeper Poems
William Blake’s two “Chimney Sweeper” poems from the Songs of
Innocenceand Songs of Experience, heretofore referred to as the
“first poem” and “second poem”, show a progression in the
awareness of a young chimney-sweeper, from an innocent child
clouded by childhood euphoria to a mature one whose awareness of
his own life reveals a stark contrast between the privileged and the
downtrodden. The poem revolves around four themes: childhood
poverty, exploitation, stark social inequality, and religion. This brief
essay will discuss these three themes to highlight the boy’s transition
from childhood innocence to maturity.

The “first poem” highlights the life of Tom Dacre, a chimney sweeper
who is born to a world of abject poverty. Sold at a young age, Tom
has very little choices in terms of his life options. Deprived of
parental care and the joys of childhood, all Tom really have is his
peers and the thought of being warm during the cold. Tom obviously
has dreams for a better life, but his dreams are that of an innocent
child, devoid of the social structures that restrict his options. In the
first poem, Tom dreams of being free, clean, and of being able to
enjoy nature, the sunshine, his childhood. Tom is undoubtedly
deprived of his happiness as a child. He is longing to have a parental
or a father figure in his life as depicted by the lines: “And the Angel
told Tom, if he’d be a good boy, /He’d have God for his father &
never want joy.” The omniscient narrator then snaps back to the
reality of Tom’s living conditions, with Tom waking up to a dreadful
reality — a reality which Tom seems to be oblivious to as shown by
the line: “Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm;
/So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.”

Initially, the innocent chimney sweeper is content and is only


concerned with being warm during the winter and not being
punished. But as he matures, the social injustice and exploitative
working conditions eventually dawns on him: “They clothed me in
the clothes of death, /And taught me to sing the notes of woe”. The
“they” is later revealed in the second poem as “God and his Priest
and King”. And in contrast to the omniscient narrator used in the
first poem, the second poem uses the first-person pronoun “I”
indicating that the chimney sweeper is now able to deeply reflect on
his situation. Interestingly, Tom is already subconsciously aware of
his exploitation in the first poem as shown by his dream of being
freed from the imprisonment of chimney sweeping, but childhood
innocence seemingly ignores the metaphor of chimneys as “coffins of
black” and the euphemism of death where Tom and his peers
ascends to heaven “naked & white” (i.e., naked and clean).

Eventually, Tom comes to the realization of the stark social


inequality between him and the people who permit his exploitation.
As shown by the last stanza in the second poem: “And because I am
happy and dance and sing,/ They think they have done me no injury,
And are gone to praise God and his Priest and King,/ Who make up
a heaven of our misery.” The last stanza basically sums up Tom’s
evolution from an innocent child whose main preoccupation is to do
his “duty” in order not to “fear harm”, to a more mature individual
who is now able to construct a more antagonistic social structure
that succinctly highlights the injustice perpetrated by those in
positions of wealth and power, such as the Priest and King, towards
the downtrodden — the chimney sweepers and those who are
penniless and powerless.

What is more significant, however, is how Tom’s views on God has


changed. During the boy’s innocence, God is seen as a kind of a
benevolent father figure who will provide the boy with joy so long as
he remains “good”. What constitutes being good, however, is not
specified. But the last stanza of the second poem does indicate that
being “good” means that Tom and his peers must do their “duty” so
that “they need not fear harm”. Tom was initially unable to see the
irony in this in the first poem when he dreams of God “for his
father”. But Tom later realizes that God is the one “Who make up a
heaven of our misery”.

In conclusion, the two poems form a very powerful story of a child


who is born into abject poverty, sold by his father, exploited as a
chimney sweeper, and later realizes that his condition is caused by
God by using the Priests and King as His proxy. The story of the
chimney sweeper is really the story of a great number of poor
children in Britain during the Industrial Revolution when many
children were employed to work long hours in very dangerous
conditions for very little pay.

In ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ of Innocence, the speaker’s friend, little Tom Dacre, has a dream,
which discloses the malicious fiction that suffering in this world is relieved by salvation in the
next. Without the tools of experience, which would equip him to see this falsehood for what it is,
Tom Dacre, like the innocent narrator, is little more than a ventriloquial voice for institutional
control. In the last line of the poem he parrots the doctrine of oppression: ‘So if all do their duty,
they need not fear harm’. Like the innocent narrator, he has internalised the language of abuse
and does not have the vocabulary with which to criticise it.

In ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ of Innocence, the speaker’s friend, little Tom Dacre, has a dream,
which discloses the malicious fiction that suffering in this world is relieved by salvation in the
next. Without the tools of experience, which would equip him to see this falsehood for what it is,
Tom Dacre, like the innocent narrator, is little more than a ventriloquial voice for institutional
control. In the last line of the poem he parrots the doctrine of oppression: ‘So if all do their duty,
they need not fear harm’. Like the innocent narrator, he has internalised the language of abuse
and does not have the vocabulary with which to criticise it.

These two poems are not only about the atrocious fate of chimney sweeps in Blake’s society.
They are also a comment on the contrary states of innocence and experience. Innocence, here,
seems a more frightening condition because the innocent have no way of understanding the
world in which they live. By contrast, the child of experience is a vocal social critic. Blake
entwines this social criticism with criticism of organised religion precisely because he sees both
issues as manifestations of the same fundamental problem of blinkered perception. This, for
Blake, is the real barrier to social progress. But only the child of experience is able to see the
platitudes of church and state for what Blake believes they are: the malice that keeps little boys
chained to a terrifying and dangerous life.

ORAL COMPREHENSION OF LECTURE ON BLAKE

1. How famous was Blake during his lifetimes, and why?


2. When did Blake become a “mass cult”? For whom? Why?
3. Which kind of artist were the most inspired by Blake?
4. What is Blake’s relationship with drugs?
5. Blake preached the doctrine of ……. ?
6. What was Blake’s relationship to his wife?
7. Did Blake prefer the city of the country?
8. How old was Blake when he wrote his first poem?
9. How did Blake’s wife sign their marriage register?
10. How did Blake get his literary education?
11. “Three words characterize Blake the poet and thinker: 1 ……………… 2
……………. 3………………”