Blake was 32 years old in 1789, married and living on Poland Street in London. In the previous year he had begun experimenting with relief engraving by producing two small booklets: There is No Natural Religion and All religions are One. Now he engraved another book in the relief technique combining his poems and images to illustrate and enhance them. Songs of Innocence, simple enough for a child to understand and profound enough to be appreciated through a lifetime, continued to be printed by Blake into his last decade.
Blake addressed his book to children as innocent of the struggles of living; he wrote it from the perspective of one who had not been disappointed and damaged by the harshness of life; and he wrote it to demonstrate the state of innocence which resulted from living in harmony with eternal principles. Throughout the poems there runs a thread of gentleness and security. No difficulty fails to be resolved in a beneficial way. He may have been projecting an idea of Eden before the fall. There is no stress in this land of innocence for the helping hand is always reaching out.
It is not likely that Blake wrote Songs of Innocence without intending to follow it with poems which would complement and complete the perspective offered in Songs of Innocence. An ideal existence of simplicity, serenity and stability cannot represent the totality of human life. Man lives in a world of challenges and possibilities. Innocence is a temporary state; it may be entered periodically or returned to when complexities have been resolved. Whatever permanence innocence has may only be visited when the mind can eliminate the darker side which provides through experience the dynamics of living.
After Blake issued Songs of Experience, he ceased producing Songs of Innocence as a separate volume; the two were necessary to each other.
Here are some short, memorable quotes from Songs of Innocence which provide a flavor of its substance:
Songs of Innocence, Songs 4, (E 7)
"Piper sit thee down and write
In a book that all may read--
So he vanish'd from my sight.
And I pluck'd a hollow reed.
And I made a rural pen,
And I stain'd the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear"
Songs of Innocence, Song 8, (E 8)
"Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee"
Songs of Innocence, Song 9, (E 9)
Little Black Boy
"And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
Ill shade him from the heat till I can bear,
To lean in joy upon our fathers knee.
And then I'll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him and he will then love me."
Songs of Innocence, Song 16, (E 12)
"Sweet babe in thy face,
Holy image I can trace.
Sweet babe once like thee,
Thy maker lay and wept for me"
Songs of Innocence, Song 18, (E 12)
The Divine Image
"For Mercy has a human heart
Pity, a human face:
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress."
Songs of Innocence, Song 20, (E 13)
"The feet of angels bright;
Unseen they pour blessing,
And joy without ceasing,
On each bud and blossom,
And each sleeping bosom."
"For wash'd in lifes river,
My bright mane for ever,
Shall shine like the gold,
As I guard o'er the fold."
Songs of Innocence, Song 24, (E 15)
"When the voices of children are heard on the green
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast
And every thing else is still"
Songs of Innocence, Song 27, (E 17)
On Anothers Sorrow
"O! he gives to us his joy,
That our grief he may destroy
Till our grief is fled & gone
He doth sit by us and moan"
Image from British MuseumSongs of Innocence
Commenting on the frontispiece of Songs of Innocence in The Illuminated Blake, David Erdman states:
"In various ways in different copies the cloud is strongly emphasized: the child is divine, celestial, a human form of the bird of innocence; the realm is that of imagination. The cloud is here, inside the protection of the branching trees; he rests on a fold of it - and the piper's head is in it." (Page 43)