Sunday, December 20, 2009


In later copies of Songs of Innocence and of Experience, the last three poems are TO TIRZAH, THE SCHOOL BOY, and THE VOICE OF THE ANCIENT BARD. In his The Illuminated Blake, Erdman postulates that, this "arrangement of the concluding plates impl[ies] an apocalyptic metamorphosis at the end of the series of emblems, beyond Innocence and Experience." Erdman suggests "that the Eternal Man 'has risen' out of the realm of' 'Contrary States.' 

TO TIRZAH picture
Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Plate 49, (E 30)
  "To Tirzah  

Whate'er is Born of Mortal Birth, 
Must be consumed with the Earth 
To rise from Generation free; 
Then what have I to do with thee? 
The Sexes sprung from Shame & Pride 
Blow'd in the morn: in evening died 
But Mercy changd Death into Sleep; 
The Sexes rose to work & weep. 
Thou Mother of my Mortal part. 
With cruelty didst mould my Heart. 
And with false self-decieving tears, 
Didst bind my Nostrils Eyes & Ears. 
Didst close my Tongue in senseless clay 
And me to Mortal Life betray: 
The Death of Jesus set me free, 
Then what have I to do with thee? 
[text on illustration: It is Raised a Spiritual Body]"

So looking at these three poems as a group, we ask why they are chosen to conclude Songs of Innocence and of Experience. TO TIRZAH represents the realization that mortal life has been a temporary substitute for the real thing in Eternity. The mortal body is to be raised a spiritual body. The picture recalls to my mind both the Good Samaritan and the Raising of Lazarus, two stories of healing and recovery.
SCHOOL BOY picture

Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Song 53, (E 31)
"The School Boy                                                 t 

I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the sky-lark sings with me.
O! what sweet company. 

But to go to school in a summer morn,
O! it drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day,
In sighing and dismay.

Ah! then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour.
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learnings bower,
Worn thro' with the dreary shower. 
How can the bird that is born for joy,
Sit in a cage and sing.
How can a child when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring.

O! father & mother, if buds are nip'd,
And blossoms blown away,
And if the tender plants are strip'd
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and cares dismay, 

How shall the summer arise in joy.
Or the summer fruits appear,
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy
Or bless the mellowing year,
When the blasts of winter appear." 

The School Boy appears to be autobiographical. Young William was not forced to attend school, and his imagination benefited from the freedom he was allowed. He asks how can the adult have the resources to go beyond innocence and experience if the imagination has not been fed and nourished on the sights and sounds and simple joys of unfettered thought and play. He illustrates this by a delightful group of children playing marbles, stretching, climbing, swinging and reading. This plate was originally in Songs of Innocence; now we see it illustrating the stage beyond Experience where the contraries have been resolved through recognition, love and forgiveness. Blake himself has survived the 'blasts of winter' mentioned in the plate, and made us better for it.

The Voice of the Ancient Bard completes the series on an ambivalent note. The old man is singing and playing his song, and gathers a new generation about him, but he wears a shackle on his ankle. The faces of the children reveal anxiety as they are invited to the new morn and warned about past mistakes. Only if they can avoid being led by those who are not qualified, can they avoid repeating the cycle of despair which the previous generation followed. Blake's unstated answer to the children is that they should trust their own imaginations to provide them with the thread that connects them to the infinite.

So perhaps as a group the three poems are meant to be an invitation to go beyond Experience into Blake's favorite place, the world of Imagination and Vision.

BARD picture

Songs of Innocence & of Experience, Song 54, (E 31)
"The Voice of the Ancient Bard

Youth of delight! come hither
And see the opening morn,
Image of Truth new-born.
Doubt is fled, and clouds of reason,
Dark disputes and artful teazing.
Folly is an endless maze;
Tangled roots perplex her ways;
How many have fallen there!
They stumble all night over bones of the dead;
And feel—they know not what but care;
And wish to lead others, when they should be led."

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