William was born in 1757 in London and was given a strict religious (educated according to the principals of religion) upbringing by his parents. He began engraving when he was very young, reproducing drawings of Greek antiquities. He worked as an apprentice (apprendista) and established himself as an independent engraver.
He also began to write poetry and produced his own books. Each page was hand-printed and coloured by Blake himself with the help of his wife, Catherine Boucher. He used a method called “illuminated printing”. He accompanied his poetry with beautiful illustrations and this linking of words and images is indeed central to the understanding of Blake’s poetry. His engravings for other artists which made him a living while his poetry went practically unrecognized during his lifetime. He was often also regarded as a madman due to his interest in and experiments with visions. At the time of his death, in 1827, he was engraving Dante’s Inferno.
Blake made use of simple vocabulary and syntax, a traditional metrical pattern and used repetition, alliteration and assonance to create a musicality in his verse, believing that the sound of a word was just as important as the meaning it conveyed. He accompanied his poetry with a series of images and his poetry had a strong visionary quality.
Songs Of Innocence And Of Experience
Blake’s main works, Songs Of Innocence And Of Experience were published together in 1794. He aimed at conveying “the two contrasting states of the human mind”. Blake believed that “without contraries there is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence”.
To Blake the two states of innocence and experience coexist in man’s world. Innocence is symbolized by childhood, a state of happiness and freedom, where God is loving and caring. Children can dream of better lives and are protected. Blake uses the lamb and its purity to symbolize this world.
Experience instead may bring sadness and suffering. The Tyger, representing the dangerous and frightening forces which can be found in cities like London. It is also the world of adult reason. In the state of experience man has lost his childlike ability to imagine and grasp the essence of things beyond surface.
Experience and innocence are two contrary that are necessary to achieve real knowledge. In fact they give a different view of the same reality.
Blake’s poetry anticipated the Romantic Movement and represented a definite break with the past. He gave greater importance to imagination, which enabled him to see what lies behind the surface. For Blake every poet is both a visionary and a prophet with the ability to create but also expose the evils and corruption of society. A society which in Blake’s time reflected great indifference towards the many inequalities and exploitations of the period.
Blake was aware of the issues that troubled the society of his time and his poetry reflects this. He supports the American and French Revolutions because for him they symbolized an aspiration towards freedom and justice. Life is complex but beautiful.
The Lamb 1789 (year of the French Revolution), it is part of the Songs of Innocence
It sounds almost like a lullaby, simple language, AABBCC, childlike rhymes.
A quiet image, place, setting, it suggests peace, a joyful image.
The Tyger 1793. it is part of Songs of Experience: life open men’s minds.
Example of violence. Creation of the terrible fears provoked by the French revolution. Reality
“who the creator was”
The Tyger is the counterpart of The Lamb
London 1793: Situation of London after the Industrial Revolution. Describes the reality of London.
Sorrowful (dolore), sad, very difficult, desperate conditions.
The poem is from the “Songs of Experience”. Here we have different images of violence, disease. The poet wants to focalize his attention on all the institutions of London.
This contributes to Blake’s portrait of fallen human nature. Each stanza points out ways in which the British monarchy and English laws cause human suffering.
It is important because the poet uses his person as a speaking eye to denounce the bad moral values and ideals of his society.