Blake produced more copies of Songs of Innocence and of the combined Songs of Innocence and of Experience than he did of any other works. The first 16 or 17 copies of Innocence were made in 1789 and he was still issuing copies near the end of his life in 1827. The earliest copies received pastel washes of color simply applied as was suited to relatively wide distribution. Later issues were finished in a more detailed, time consuming manner to be sold at special order and at a higher price.
The Blake Trust is publishing a series of facsimiles of Blake's illuminated books of which Songs of Innocence and of Experience is the second. Andrew Lincoln wrote in the introduction:
"The poems of Innocence focus on joyful and protective relationships, on the sense of common identities between individuals. In the awareness of shared happiness - present, remembered or anticipated - innocents triumph over loss, deprivation and the steady passage of time. Divinity here is an innate presence that becomes visible in the human form, a personal saviour ' ever nigh' who comforts the distressed. The landscape of Innocence is typically common ground: pastoral fields, valleys wild, the village green."
"Several poems develop variation on the Christian theme 'Whoso dwelleth in love dwelleth in God' (E 599, K 87). But the theme is approached without conventional qualifications, in a way that tends to dissolve the traditional distinctions between the human and the divine. Children's unselfconscious innocence is sometimes used to expose the limitations of adult perspectives. Indeed, the child-like vision of the poems may even challenge contemporary assumptions about poetic argument. The reader is drawn into a world in which ambiguous syntax and elusive ironies at once invite and frustrate a search of definite conclusions."
In an 1893 book by Edwin Ellis, he included images of unfinished plates of Songs of Innocence and of Experience. The plates seem to have been intended to be watercolored as was typically done before the books were sold, but these were left uncolored.
From Wiki media commons, here is a scan of an original book - page 5 (The Shepherd) - of Facsimile of the original outlines before colouring of The songs of Innocence and of Experience executed by William Blake, published in 1893 by Edwin Ellis.
These are images of an uncolored and a colored plate for comparison.
In thinking about the whole process which Blake undertook - entering the world of the child's innocence, transforming that world into poetry, designing and engraving the plates, and coloring each page individually - we get closer to the man and the artist. Seeing the stage of the uncolored plates also can make us feel closer to the creative endeavor of producing Songs of Innocence.