W i l l i a m    B l a k e

Mid-paper: "Movements of the English Poetry" (USP) 


W i l l i a m   B l a k e:

From ‘Innocence’ to the ‘Experience’




Theme 1: A comparative analysis of one poem from “Songs of Innocence” and one from “Songs of Experience”, examining the aspects in which the poetic characteristics of the texts illustrate the transition from the XVIII century cultural environment to the one of the early XIX century and of Romanticism.



If in the beginning of the 18th Century the atmosphere of intense politic debates – inherited from the times of the Glorious Revolution – approached the literature to objectivity through the neoclassic writers such as Swift, Defoe and Sterne.


In opposition to them, the artistic generation of the end of the same century reacted to the mechanization of life caused by the Industrial Revolution. So, the romantic poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Byron and the Shelleys emphasized the inner universe of the sensibility while searching for the nature as a manner to retake the original values of the non-urban life style.


But the bridge between these two literary moments (the neoclassicism of the 18th century and the early phases of Romanticism) was William Blake (1757-1827): no another writer could be compared to the unique production of this mystic and visionary poet who created a proper mythology and, thus, influenced the Romantic generation that succeeded him. Blake does not belong to any specific poetic school and only very recently (20th century) his genius was acknowledge by the general public.


        Romanticism was considered as a decisive reaction to the Age of Enlightenment as this new movement started to emphasize intuition, imagination, and feeling against the primacy of deductive reason. For this reason, Romantic writers were unduly accused of irrationalism.


So, Blake’s works were an early reaction to the omnipresence of the reason supported by the neoclassics, which exploded in a personal, prophetic and wild mythology, as if he was moved by an imperious necessity of balancing reason and feelings in times of wild capitalism


Differently from those conformed to the social conventions of these times, Blake became, in his own particular way, a critic of the English capitalistic society: originated from a lower social position and without formal education, he realized what many refused to see: the poverty, the social injustice and how negative the power of the Church and the State could be.


Blake saw visions since his childhood. His biographer, Bentley, recounts: "once his mother beat him for running in and saying that he saw the prophet Ezekiel under a Tree in the Field" (1, p. 19) and, "later when he was eight or ten, one day as he was walking — he saw a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars" (p. 19). His wife commented, in 1810: "I have very little of Mr. Blake’s company; he is always in Paradise."


Along with his recurrent hallucinatory visions, Blake faced moments of severe depression. He could have episodes of deep melancholy without any real reason for it followed by periods of illumination and intense creativity what suggests he suffered of bipolar illness, easily treated nowadays.


He published the first volume in 1789, which brought poems illustrated with engravings and with clear mystic traces. Five years after Songs of Innocence, he came back to the same subject with Songs of Experience. Both volumes have in common the aspect of child literature re-written for adults.


In a dialectic relation with the previous volume, Blake introduced a pessimistic tone, emphasizing the malignant aspects of the adult world and the society, disclosing two opposing states of the human being soul.


We may say that Songs of Innocence presents not only the innocence itself but, also, the absence of the moral judgement and the omnipresence of God while Songs of Experience exposes the repressive moral or lack of moral as well as the religious hypocrisy.


In other words, first the Paradise, later the fall. William Blake is now remembered exactly due to the poems on these two books, which continue to say a lot to us nowadays. Perhaps, this contemporary aspect still exists because the poems do not bring a synthesis of contraries, as it would be logically expected according to the Dialectic’s point of view but, instead, they are about the coexistence of two visions in eternal disagreement.


Among the many possible pairs of combination of poems from each book, two small poems were chosen – instead of more extensive ones - to better illustrate the differences between Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, as transcribed below:




The Blossom                                         The Sick Rose



(Songs of Innocence)                                          (Songs of Experience)



Merry, Merry Sparrow!

Under leaves so green                                           O rose, thou art sick!

A happy Blossom                                                  The invisible worm

Sees you, swift as arrow,                                       That flies in the night,

Seek your cradle narrow,                                       In the howling storm,

Near my Bosom.



Pretty, pretty robin!         

Under leaves so green                                           Has found out thy bed      

A happy blossom                                                  Of crimson joy,               

Hears you sobbing, sobbing,                                  And his dark secret love  

Pretty, pretty robin,                                              Does thy life destroy.       

Near my Bosom.



Specifically concerning the two selected poems, we can make at first a comparison between two opposite images: while a ‘sparrow’ and a ‘robin” fly over a blossom in the first poem, an ‘invisible worm’ makes the rose sick, in the second one. Other similar images of opposition are also relevant: an ‘arrow that swifts’ versus the ‘howling storm’ or leaves ‘so green’ versus ‘crimson joy’, among other possible combinations.


There are no clear indications in both poems that lead to a conclusive analysis that they refer to a comparison between the virginal youth and the adult phase of impurities. But the relation between them is obvious, especially if we consider both titles. Moreover, the inherent images to the first one are of pureness and coolness (“under leaves so green”) whereas the second poem has a predominance of dark colours, beyond the explicit references to ‘night’, ‘storm’, ‘bed’, ‘crimson joy’ and ‘secret love’.


But if we remember that the social thematic is a basic presence in Blake works (for example, when he refers to the child work in The Chimney Sweeper or when he considers the theme of sexuality as a loss of the innocence in Little Girl Lost), we can also analyze that the loss of purity of the blossom – becoming a sick rose – may also have a social connotation of the prostitution, very common in these days after the Industrial Revolution. This analysis may be based in explicit references in each one verse of the second stanza, especially the last one, which may link the idea of destruction to a sexual disease, as the title of the second poem also states.


As Otto Maria Carpeaux said: “Blake remained isolated because he was the voice of the millenarian and mystic traditions in favour of the proletariat” (História da Literatura Ocidental) but this statement does not exclude adjectives like poet, mystic, revolutionary and insane.


But much beyond of simply classifying him as a wild, wouldn’t Blake be, on the contrary, “an extremely trustworthy narrator of the horrors inherent to the implantation of the capitalism in the first capitalist country”?


Also, we must to consider that he produced a poetry of the highest level, being a “reporter and historian of his very important historical time”, as mentioned in the preface of the bilingual edition of the Crisália Publishing company (pp.18/19)?




The Prophet “Gentileza




Evidently, it is not possible to compare an aesthetically refined and socially engaged literary production of an artist like William Blake to the artisan manifestations of a poor street walker, with low instruction.


However, only as a curiosity, this addendum is being enclosed to the main text, presenting the story of this ordinary, simply man, very well-known in the City of Rio de Janeiro and who keeps, in a certain way, some similarities to Blake, especially concerning the mystic aspects of his public manifestations.


José Datrino, also known as Profeta Gentileza, (Cafelândia, São Paulo, April 11th, 1917 — Mirandópolis, São Paulo, May 29th, 1996) became famous as from 1980 due to his peculiar inscriptions under a viaduct in Rio De Janeiro, where he used to walk with a white tunic and long beard.


When he was twenty years old he went to the state of Rio de Janeiro, while his family was moving to Mirandópolis, in São Paulo. On December 17th, 1961, the “Gran North American Circus” was consumed by a gigantic fire in the city of Niterói (Rio’s metropolitan area), which was considered one of the biggest tragedies involving a circus in the world; in this tragedy, more than 500 people died, most of them children.


One day before the Christmas’ Eve –and six days after this terrible event-, Jose woke up saying that he had heard, according to his proper words, “astral voices” that ordered him to abandon the material world and to dedicate himself to the spiritual world only.


        He, then, walked throughout the entire city of Rio de Janeiro as from 1970. He could be seen in streets, in squares, on the boats that link Rio to Niterói or in trains and buses. He was always preaching and saying words of love, goodness and respect to everyone.


From 1980 on, he choose 56 pilasters of the Viaduto do Cajú, which links one of the City’s Cemetery to the Bus Station, in a total extension of approximately 1,5km. Than, he painted various murals with inscriptions in green and yellow with his critical point of view about the world proposing his alternative to the malaise of the civilization.


During the Eco-92 Official Summit, he placed himself strategically close to the pilasters in order to be seen by the representatives of the participating countries, since it was an obligatory route to the place where the meeting was being held. And, as they passed by him, Gentileza stirred up them to live the gentility and to spread gentility throughout the Earth


Years after his death the walls were damaged in acts of vandalism and, later, covered with grey paint. The deletion of the original murals was criticized and, between January 1999 and May 2000, the City Hall sponsored a project to restore the walls, being the inscriptions considered an urban patrimony.


         In the end of 2000 it was published by the EdUFF (publishing company of the State of Rio de Janeiro Federal University) the book Brasil: Tempo de Gentileza, written by the professor Leonardo Guelman. This book introduces the reader to the “universe” of the prophet, giving details about his trajectory and his own style, as well as his singular calligraphy together with all 56 panels and a description of the stages related to the process of restoration of the writings.




S o u r c e:


Text above (Profeta Gentileza) was translated from:



(photos of the murals are available in the above mentioned web site)